Welcome to Consumer Reports Advocacy

For 85 years CR has worked for laws and policies that put consumers first. Learn more about CR’s work with policymakers, companies, and consumers to help build a fair and just marketplace at TrustCR.org

Consumer Reports Urges DOT to Hold Airlines Accountable for Flight Operation and Customer Service Failures as Holiday Travel Approaches

The Department of Transportation must act quickly to hold airlines accountable for widespread flight cancellations and changes, insufficient refund vouchers, and additional costs for family seating that takes a personal and financial toll on consumers. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Travel industry analysts are predicting chaos at airports from an increasing number of flight cancellations during the holiday air travel season, which kicks off next week with Thanksgiving, and continues through the end of the year. In light of these concerns, Consumer Reports is calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to investigate recent flight cancellations and hold airlines accountable when they fail to minimize such disruptions.  

“Airline passengers continue to be confronted with the breakdown of flight operations and customer service, including recent meltdowns resulting in widespread flight cancellations,” said William J. McGee, Aviation Adviser to Consumer Reports. “As more and more Americans return to airline travel, DOT must step in to curb this growing crisis.”

In a letter to Secretary Pete Buttigieg, CR points out that recent flight complications are likely due at least in part to shortages of airline staff, due to furloughs, encouraged early retirements, and outsourcing despite the CARES Act specifically stating that taxpayer bailouts were designed to prevent airline labor shortages. These problems are compounded by the airlines’ failures to provide adequate customer service; properly staff call centers; and provide prompt re-bookings and refunds. Contrary to airlines pointing to weather and air traffic control issues, CR remains skeptical that delays and cancellations are being accurately attributed.  This point is critical since airline contracts limit compensation to passengers when cancellations are due to Force Majeure (unforeseen and beyond control) conditions. Indeed, these claims could constitute a violation of the prohibition against unfair and deceptive practices.

CR collected hundreds of complaints from airline passengers between September- November 2021 and is forwarding them to DOT to show the urgency for action, highlighting several in its letter.

“We received hundreds of disheartening stories; from a passenger being denied a refund by United Airlines despite having spent eight days in the hospital with Covid-related pneumonia, to one family of six who was notified when their first flight landed that their American Airlines connecting flight had been canceled, stranding them for days,” said McGee. After waiting months, some passengers have not heard a word about a refund or voucher, or their voucher ends up expiring before they can even use it. “This scheme lines the airline’s pockets, while consumers are stuck with the bill without receiving the service they paid for, and having trusted airlines in good faith,” said McGee. 

What Consumers Can Do

Many people are planning on flying this holiday season in spite of predictions of more surprise cancellations some are going to see their families for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. If you are traveling, here are some tips to help you cope with the inconvenience of flight cancellations:

  • Statistically, you’ll have the fewest hassles booking the first flight of the day; departing in the early morning greatly reduces your chances of delays and cancellations.
  • Avoid using connecting flights during the holidays if possible. Nonstops may cost a little more, but they reduce your chances of delays and cancellations by at least 50%.
  • Prior to departure, continually check your flight status so you’re not caught off-guard by irregular operations.
  • If your flight is delayed or canceled, find the airline’s Contract of Carriage on its website and ask for the compensation and accommodations listed in the contract.   Depending on the airline, you may be entitled to cash compensation, meals, lodging, or other accommodations.
  • Keep good records! That means flight numbers, dates, times, names, titles. Forward any complaints to CR, and to the US Department of Transportation at www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/file-consumer-complaint.

PLEASE NOTE: Consumer Reports can connect reporters with consumers who have shared their airline concerns. For more information, contact Emily Akpan at emily.akpan@consumer.org.

About Consumer Reports

Founded in 1936, CR has a mission to create a fair and just marketplace for all. Widely known for our rigorous research and testing of products and services, we also survey millions of consumers each year, report extensively on marketplace issues, and advocate for consumer rights and protections around safety as well as digital rights, financial fairness, and sustainability. CR is independent and nonprofit.

EXPERTS: William J. McGee, George Slover

CONTACT: Emily Akpan, emily.akpan@consumer.org, 347-728-2910