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By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. consumers lodged more than quadruple the number of complaints against U.S. airlines in April compared with pre-pandemic levels as on-time arrivals fell, according to a report Thursday.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced on Thursday that it received 5,079 complaints about airline service in April, up more than 320% over the 1,205 complaints received in April 2019. Reuters first reported the findings earlier Thursday.
Travelers are facing an already difficult summer as airlines expect record demand and as they rebuild staff levels after thousands of workers left the industry during the COVID-19 pandemic. Air passengers are facing long lines, crowded airports and few open seats.
USDOT said Thursday it "remains committed to ensuring airline passengers are protected fairly and is concerned about recent cancellations and flight disruptions."
The department said 32% of complaints concerned refunds and 31% involved flights delays and other problems. In April 2022, major carriers posted an on-time arrival rate of 76%, down from 77.2% in March and below the 79.8% rate in April 2019, the report said.
Airlines operated 566,893 flights in April, about 87% of the number flown in the same month in 2019. The 10 largest carriers canceled 2.3% of domestic flights in April, down slightly from the 2.4% canceled in April 2019, USDOT said.
Delta Air Lines had the highest percentage of on-time arrivals, at 81.9%, followed by United Airlines (80.9%) and Hawaiian Airlines (80.8%). JetBlue Airways had the lowest on-time performance at 53.3%, followed by Frontier Airlines (58.4%) and Spirit Airlines (58.5%).
JetBlue said in April it would reduce its originally planned summer schedule by more than 10%, citing operational issues.
Airlines for America, a group representing major carriers, said it was working with the federal government "to address operational challenges and achieve the highest levels of customer service while prioritizing the safety of all travelers."
The department plans to announce formal rules to codify requirements that airlines provide prompt refunds when carriers cancel or make a significant change, including when the ticket purchased is non-refundable.
In July 2021, USDOT proposed new rules to require passenger airlines to refund fees for significantly delayed bags and for inoperative services like onboard Wi-Fi.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Mark Porter and Leslie Adler)