Although the travel industry is slowly rebounding as concerns about the pandemic begin to fade, the effects of the coronavirus on domestic air travel in the United States will have a lingering impact for years to come.
Airlines faced many challenges in 2020, forcing them to adjust to a ‘new normal’, even though some weathered the storm better than others.
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The # 1 issue carriers faced in 2020 was a significant increase in customer complaints in the early months of the pandemic, with the largest occurring in April and May, according to the Airline Quality Rating (AQR), a study of how the major airlines in the United States performed over a period of one year.
Complaints increased by almost 400% from 2019 to 2020, with nearly 83% of complaints centered on problems with reimbursement for unused travel, up from just 6% in 2019, found researchers Dean Headley and Brent Bowen.
“Airlines have had a great challenge in resolving the reimbursement issues presented by canceled travel plans, but most have been able to respond and allay customer concerns in a timely manner,” Headley said.
Southwest ranked best among other airlines in terms of complaints, with the lowest consumer complaint rate at 2.64 per 100,000 passengers. Frontier, however, was the worst, with a rate of 49.30 per 100,000 passengers.
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Overall, the airline industry as a whole has seen a dramatic increase in complaints, from 1.06 in 2019 to 11.75 per 100,000 passengers in 2020.
Other issues, including punctuality, involuntary denied boarding and mismanaged baggage, have not been so heavily affected by the pandemic.
“If you’ve traveled by air in 2020, there’s a good chance you’ve had a good performance from the airline,” said Headley, Emeritus Associate Professor of Marketing at the W. Frank Barton School of Business from Wichita State University. “We had to expect better punctuality, less badly managed baggage and very few denied boarding with far fewer passengers in the system. “
A nearly 60% reduction in passenger travel due to the pandemic played a significant role in AQR’s results, allowing airlines to make improvements in key areas.
Passengers on board suffered a dramatic loss in March 2020, which continued to decline throughout the year. The total number of domestic passengers in 2020 was less than 40% of the number of boarded passengers in 2019.
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Fewer passengers gave airlines more time and flexibility to improve areas of performance that were worse in previous years.
Southwest was the only airline to maintain an almost equal score for 2020 compared to 2019. The other nine saw the opposite, with their scores deteriorating from 40% to 800% as of 2019.
Hawaiian Airlines ranked among the best for punctuality in 2020, with an arrival percentage of 88%. Allegiant was the worst in terms of punctuality, just over 71%.
The airline industry’s overall punctuality percentage in 2020 was almost 84% compared to 79% in 2019.
In addition, boarding denials have also improved. Frontier had the highest unintentionally denied boarding rate at 0.24 per 10,000 passengers. Allegiant, Delta, Hawaiian and JetBlue had the lowest rate at 0 per 10,000 passengers.
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Seven airlines improved their denied boarding rates, with Allegiant improving the most. However, three airlines saw no difference in their denied boarding rate in 2020 compared to 2019. Overall, the industry performed significantly better in 2020, with a rate of 0.8 per 10,000 passengers. , compared to 2019, where it was 0.19.
Meanwhile, Allegiant had the best baggage handling, with 1.48 mismanaged bags per 1,000 checked bags, while the American had the worst with 6.38 mismanaged bags per 1,000 checked bags.
The airline industry has improved overall with its rate of mismanaged baggage, dropping from 5.57 per 1,000 checked bags in 2019 to 3.96 per 1,000 in 2020.
Despite the setbacks of 2020, the airline industry appears to be slowly making a comeback. Air travel volume has started to return – more than one million passengers passed through TSA airport checkpoints every day in April 2021.
“At the rate that people are coming back to the airways, it doesn’t seem like demand is an issue,” Headley said. “I am sure the airlines will do their best to prepare the national and international air transport system to serve travelers,” he continued.
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Still, it will likely take several years for the industry to return to pre-pandemic normalcy.
« [The] The traveling public is eager to fly again “according to Bowen. Consumers have renewed their confidence in air travel and are implementing the plans they made during the pandemic. The industry is seeing a solid return to passenger volumes. “
Here are the overall 2020 rankings of the country’s 10 largest airlines based on the report’s findings, with the previous year’s rankings in parentheses:
- Southwest Airlines (3)
- Allegiant Air (1)
- Delta Air Lines (4)
- Alaska Airlines (5)
- Spirit Airlines (8)
- JetBlue Airways (6)
- American Airlines (10)
- United Airlines (9)
- Hawaiian Airlines (2)
- Frontier Airlines (7)