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Airplane tail-wings.
Photo by Joshua Roberts, Reuters.

Complaints against American air carriers are sky-high, according to a recently-released U.S. Department of Transportation report.

April was a particularly bad month for airlines. Several high-profile public relations bungles left companies like Delta and Spirit scrambling to repair their reputations, all while fending off aggressive inquiries from Congress.

Complaints about air carriers filed with the USDOT in 2017 are up 71% compared to last year. Foreign companies didn’t get much of a reprieve from the anger of the American people either – negative feedback spiked by 98.6%.

VoyageReport and The New York Times alike both suggest a common-sense explanation for the rise in complaints: viral videos showing flight attendants and cabin crew abusing passengers.

United has apologized time and time again for calling security on Dr. David Dao, who refused to give up his seat to company employees needed at another hub. Rather than exploring means for a peaceful resolution, United call Chicago O’Hare International Airport security to drag the physician out of his seat and down the airplane aisle.

Passenger walking down aisle of crowded plane.
U.S.-origin complaints against domestic and foreign carriers alike have spiked since April. Image courtesy of VoyageReport.com.

American Airlines, meanwhile, found itself in a similarly precarious situation when a flight attendant sparked a physical altercation over a baby stroller. The crew member grabbed it from a female passenger, hitting her and just missing an infant in the process. The employee was caught on tape challenging a man and goading him to ‘hit me.’

The dramatic and highly publicized slew of airline-related incidents has coerced apologies and promises to change from carriers.

But, as irate congressmen pointed out, little has been done to alleviate the plethora of concerns which have been directed at the industry for decades.

Shivani Vora of The New York Times notes an emerging pattern: airlines now are quick to offer an apology, often backed up by refunds, vouchers, or both. Sometimes press releases are handed over to local media networks, only for business to carry on as usual.

Nevertheless, the shift towards apology and rapid-fire compensation is a welcome change.

United’s response to the forcible de-boarding of David Dao was panned by journalists and public relations experts, who noted how the seemingly reluctant and neutral tone with which an apology was posted on Twitter.

Not long after, United ran afoul of social and mainstream media a second time, after a flight attendant refused to let two teenage girls with free-fly passes board – the rationale, according to United, was that their leggings constituted inappropriate attire.

“Both issues hurt United’s image badly,” said Joshua March, founder of Conversocial, a software system which facilitates interaction between companies and customers on social media. “And the lesson learned was that airlines need to jump to offer a heartfelt apology to their customers for any wrongdoings.”

Unfortunately for the airlines, apologies might not be enough.

Congressional amendments to the Federal Aviation Administration’s reauthorization include proposals to set a minimum seat size and prevent airlines from evicting passengers already on-board a flight.

Sources

American Airlines apologizes for onboard clash over stroller

Complaints Against Airlines Soar 71%, USDOT Says

House, Senate FAA Bills Call for New Passenger Rights

United Airline controversies: From revoking toddler’s seat to David Dao’s removal

Why Your Airline Says It’s Sorry

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