By COLIN STAUB
Airlines have faced growing criticism for a surge in flight delays and cancellations, and failure to refund customers. Over the summer, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) reported airline-related consumer complaints were up 320% over pre-pandemic levels, and most of those were about cancellations, delays or refunds. In February 2020, just before the pandemic, U.S. airlines canceled 6,095 flights, 1%. In February 2022, there were 23,421 canceled flights, 4.5%, according to DOT figures.
Consumers also reported airlines were delaying or refusing to pay refunds, instead offering vouchers for future flights and similar deals in lieu of payment. DOT, facing criticism for allowing these practices despite having rules that require refunds for canceled flights, announced in August that it will consider strengthening regulations in response to the spike. The agency also recently issued fines to six airlines for refund violations, and announced enforcement actions refunding a total of $600 million to American consumers. Frontier Airlines, the only U.S. carrier to be fined, returned $222 million to customers and faced a $2.2 million penalty.
So why are airlines canceling flights in the first place? The airlines largely blame a shortage of pilots. But the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) casts aside that claim, instead chastising major airlines for mismanaging the $63 billion they received in pandemic relief funds.
“Federal aid was granted to keep workers on the payroll so that airlines would be ready for the increased travel demand the industry is experiencing today,” ALPA wrote in the May issue of its monthly magazine. “Instead, they pushed out thousands of pilots and ineffectively managed training resources for current employees.”