After last summer’s epic airline failures, many travelers preparing for holiday travel chaos may be in for a pleasant surprise.
NBC 5 Responds found several signs that air travel has improved over the past four months, from the number of delayed or canceled flights to consumer complaints in general.
That progress is reflected in the numbers: During Thanksgiving week, FlightAware, a flight tracking company, reported that less than one percent of all flights were canceled, or 410 out of 136,300 flights nationwide.
That’s a big difference compared to a particularly busy holiday travel week last summer.
During the Juneteenth and Father’s Day holiday week, FlightAware found 3.5% of all flight cancellations, or more than 11,000 cancellations out of 315,668 total flights.
Here in Chicago, last Thanksgiving week, FlightAware found that the number of flight delays from O’Hare or Midway was in line with or below the national average.
Nationwide, from Nov. 21 to Nov. 27, FlightAware found 16.2% of all flights were delayed, with an average delay time of 42 minutes.
During the same week, 10.6% of all flights departing from O’Hare were delayed, with an average delay of 51 minutes, while 16.3% of all flights departing from Midway were delayed, with an average delay of 34 minutes.
The U.S. Department of Transportation reported a 15.6% drop in consumer complaints from August to September in its latest Air Travel Consumer Report.
There is still work to be done.
Although the number of complaints dropped between August and September, the number of complaints in 2019 was still 380% higher than pre-pandemic levels, the Department of Transport recently reported.
Those kinds of consumer complaints can turn a good vacation into a bad one.
Michael Rowden of Crest Hill recently traveled to Europe last October and said he had a great vacation until his flight home on Lufthansa Airlines.
“It took five days [the airline] To find my bag,” Rowden told NBC 5 Answers. “I am very disappointed as this bag is an old friend.”
Rowden said the airline lost her luggage, and when she finally got her bag a week later, there was more bad news. The handle of the bag was completely torn.
Rowden said she filed a claim with Lufthansa Airlines online as per the airline’s policy, but after waiting for almost two months, she has yet to hear back. Rowden says this is the principle of good customer service for him.
“I’m sure a lot of people will write this off and say, ‘Well, you know I’m a victim. It happens.’ And throw the bag away,” Rowden said, “and I don’t think that’s right.”
Rowden’s experience illustrates one of several areas of focus for regulators in Washington: improving air travel across the board.
“We’ve been pressuring the airlines and the airlines are responding,” US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told NBC 5. “We don’t care where your headquarters are, if you operate in the United States, you must meet our high standards on security and our standards on consumer protection.”
Recently, the US Department of Transportation published a dashboard online for passengers, outlining each airline’s policies on how to contact the airline in the event of a flight disruption or problem.
To view flight policies on the dashboard, Click here.
There are many ways you can prepare for the busy holiday travel season.
Consumer Checkbook released a list this year of “60 Strategies for Finding the Best Travel Deals and Avoiding the Trouble.”
Here are some points to consider:
- In case your trip takes longer than expected, pack a few essential items in your carry-on luggage.
- Download the airline’s app and subscribe to alerts so you’ll be the first to know if there’s a problem
- If there is a problem with your flight, respond immediately. You’ll be competing with other travelers for another flight, so information you can find out in advance of your trip may move you to additional flights to your destination.
- Check the weather forecast for your take off and landing areas. Airlines often offer fare waivers in advance in the event of inclement weather. There may also be an option to depart earlier, later or to a different city at no additional cost.
- Buy a Wi-Fi tracker to put in your checked luggage. That way, if the airline loses your bag, you can locate it on your smartphone wherever you are and help the airline track it down faster.
- If you have a problem with an airline, and their phone lines are busy, some travelers have had success reaching out to a representative on social media to help with their concerns.