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February 2024 Air Travel Consumer report released

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The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has released its Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) for February 2024, detailing airline operational data on on-time performance, mishandled baggage, and mishandled wheelchairs and scooters. The ATCR aims to provide consumers with information on the quality of airline services.

In February 2024, only 0.6% of flights were cancelled, significantly lower than the 1.8% cancellation rate in February 2023 and the 3.2% rate in February 2019 before the pandemic. The DOT expects airlines to operate flights as scheduled and, when flights are cancelled or delayed due to airline issues, to provide promised services to consumers. Following a two-year push by the DOT to improve the passenger experience, the ten largest airlines now guarantee meals and free rebooking on the same airline, and nine guarantee hotel accommodations. Consumer-friendly information on airline commitments can be found on the Department’s Airline Customer Service Dashboard at FlightRights.Gov. Additionally, the DOT has introduced a family seating dashboard, highlighting which of the ten largest airlines guarantee fee-free family seating, to help parents avoid paying extra to sit with their children.

The DOT recently announced two final rules requiring airlines to provide automatic cash refunds when owed and protecting consumers from unexpected airline fees. These rules will greatly enhance consumer protections in air travel, making it easier for passengers to obtain refunds and saving consumers over half a billion dollars annually in hidden fees.

The DOT is also improving transportation for individuals with disabilities. In July 2023, the DOT finalised a rule requiring airlines to make lavatories on new, single-aisle aircraft more accessible. In February 2024, the DOT issued a proposal to address additional barriers faced by wheelchair users, including enhanced training for airline employees and contractors who assist passengers with disabilities and handle wheelchairs.

When necessary, the DOT enforces aviation consumer protection requirements against airlines and ticket agents. In 2023, the DOT issued the largest fines in its consumer protection office’s history, including a $140 million penalty against Southwest Airlines for failing passengers during the 2022 holiday meltdown. This penalty, in addition to over $600 million already refunded to passengers by Southwest, requires the airline to establish a $90 million compensation system for passengers affected by significant delays and cancellations from 30 April 2024. Additionally, the DOT has helped return more than $3 billion in refunds to travellers since the pandemic began.

In April, the DOT announced the launch of the bipartisan Airline Passenger Protection Partnership with 18 state attorneys general to investigate and hold airlines and ticket agents accountable for violations of aviation consumer protection laws. This partnership enhances the Department’s oversight by establishing a fast-track system prioritising misconduct cases from state attorneys general. Through this partnership, the DOT will provide state attorneys general with access to the federal complaint database and ensure airline cooperation with state investigations.

In February 2024, 549,439 flights were operated, representing 104.35% of the 526,543 flights in February 2023. This marks a 4.35% year-over-year increase and a 1.95% decrease from the 560,352 flights in January 2024. The ten marketing network carriers reported 552,691 scheduled domestic flights in February 2024, with 3,252 (0.6%) cancellations. In January 2024, airlines scheduled 582,425 domestic flights, with 22,073 (3.8%) cancellations. In February 2023, airlines scheduled 536,229 domestic flights, with 9,686 (1.8%) cancellations.

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