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Gannett News Service

Fliers’ complaints double

• Some of the rise may be due to the ease of commenting online. AmWest does poorly.


WASHINGTON – Consumer complaints about airlines doubled in 1999 from a year earlier despite industry efforts to improve flier satisfaction.

The U.S. Department of Transportation received 20,495 complaints about airlines and air travel companies in 1999, more than twice 1998′s 9,608. The 1999 total was the highest since 1988′s tally of 23,844.

”I don’t think service is twice as bad as it was last year. Some of this is because it’s gotten so much easier to complain,” says Ed Perkins, consumer advocate for the American Society of Travel Agents.

A proliferation of Web sites has made complaining easier. Instead of writing a letter, fliers can register a complaint on passengerrights.com, which relays it to the DOT. Other sites include 1travel.com, which links to the DOT’s Web site.

Still, every major airline saw complaints rise, with the majority of problems focusing on flight delays, cancellations and customer service.

America West had the highest rate of complaints last year, 3.73 per 100,000 passengers. US Airways had the biggest increase in complaints, nearly quadrupling from 0.84 complaint per 100,000 fliers. Southwest had the lowest rate, with 0.40 complaint per 100,000 fliers.

For the first time since 1992, Southwest Airlines did not take the top honors for on-time performance. TWA, ranked fifth in 1998, was No. 1 with 80.9 percent of its flights arriving on time in 1999. Southwest was No. 2, with 80 percent of its flights arriving on time. America West had the worst delays with only 69.5 percent of its flights on time.

”We’re used to being No. 1, and we want to be No. 1 again,” says Ed Stewart, Southwest Airlines spokesman. Stewart says Southwest formed an ontime committee to improve its performance.

For the 10 major carriers, the percentage of flights that arrived on time dropped slightly, to 76.1 percent in 1999 from 77.2 percent in 1998. The worst airports for delays: Seattle, where just 60 percent of flights arrived on time, and Newark, which posted a 69 percent on-time rate.

The 10 biggest U.S. carriers did a better job on baggage. The rate of bags being lost or delayed dropped to 5.08 per 1,000 passengers last year, an improvement over 1998′s rate of 5.16. Southwest had the lowest rate of mishandled bags, just 4.22 per 1,000 fliers. United had the most, with 7.01 per 1,000 passengers.

Despite an overall decrease for mishandled bags, five airlines posted increases last year: America West, American, Continental, Delta, and US Airways. US Airways had a 24 percent increase in its mishandled-baggage rate last year from 1998.

GRAPHIC: Gannett News Service

Airline service in the ’90s

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