Skift Take

It's not all about price. Customer service and reputation matters a lot when airfares are comparable and passengers don't soon forget bad experiences.

From mistake fares to tarmac delays, passengers responded with everything but silence as customer service-related complaints against U.S. airlines rose 33% during the past year.

Overall complaints are up nearly 60% year-over-year for U.S. airlines, and customer service specific complaints, 1,770 to be exact, represent 11.3 percent of the nearly 12,000 complaints U.S. carriers received between January and September, according to data released this week from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

That’s a 10% year-over-year increase in terms of customer service’s share of all complaints logged and American Airlines, as the largest U.S. carrier, received the most customer service complaints in absolute terms (315). But Spirit Airlines’ customer service performance (142 related complaints) was the worst in relative terms considering it had the most complaints, 11.3 per 100,000 passengers versus Frontier Airlines’ 9.35 and American’s 3.51.

Complaining is essentially a cornerstone of Spirit’s brand and the carrier actually embraced it as part of its Bare Fare campaign rolled out earlier this year. Between January and September the carrier also received 601 complaints for flight problems, 193 for ticketing/reservations/boarding, 190 for baggage, and 173 for fares–the latter its business’ backbone.

Fare- and fee-related complaints are up 62% year-over-year for U.S. carriers, coinciding with mistake fare mishaps from both United and American Airlines in 2015, with the Department of Transportation siding with United but requiring American to honor $0 fares from the U.S. to China.

Skift recently looked at what it takes to successfully manage an airline customer service Twitter account, and following are two charts breaking down complaints against U.S. carriers by sub-categories so far this year:

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 6.21.44 PM

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

Top 10 U.S. Airlines Receiving Most Complaints, January-September 2015

Airline Flight Problems Oversales Res/Tkng/Boarding Fares Refunds Baggage Customer Service Other Complaints Total
American Airlines 775 105 367 386 293 439 315 215 2,895
United Airlines 680 87 227 183 130 342 286 188 2,123
Spirit Airlines 601 42 193 173 149 190 142 68 1,558
Frontier Airlines 307 15 146 63 77 134 109 42 893
Delta Air Lines 298 41 91 51 12 102 103 102 800
US Airways 236 52 115 50 59 93 82 64 751
Southwest Airlines 204 13 50 12 29 132 75 73 588
Allegiant Air 167 4 138 44 58 33 56 34 534
JetBlue Airways 80 5 20 20 19 34 44 19 241
SkyWest Airlines 129 4 5 0 0 2 15 5 160

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation

Subscribe to Skift Pro

Subscribe to Skift Pro to get unlimited access to stories like these ($30/month)

Subscribe Now

Tags: complaints, spirit airlines

Photo credit: Spirit Air CEO Ben Baldanza (L) and a puppet chatting about the carrier's Bare Fare campaign earlier this year. Despite trying to be clear about its offerings and advertisements, its passengers are still complaining. Spirit Airlines

Up Next

Loading next stories