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People’s Biggest Pet Peeves 30,000 Feet in the Air [2022 Air Travel Study]

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Alex Miller
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Alex Miller

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Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business...
Edited by: Jessica Merritt
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A long-time points and miles student, Jessica is the former Personal Finance Managing Editor at U.S. News and World Report and is passionate about helping consumers fund their travels for as little ca...
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What are people’s biggest pet peeves when flying? Recycled air? Crying babies? Oh, or the jerk in front of you who reclined their seat all the way back, slamming your table tray forward? There’s nothing quite like being crammed into a domestic flight. With limited legroom and space, most passengers can feel agitated at worst and slightly claustrophobic at best. Plus, it’s not uncommon for other passengers to make themselves right at home, whether that means breaking out the egg salad or kicking the back of your seat out of boredom (we’re looking at you, child). 

With so many Americans heading to the airport this holiday season, we wanted to discover which airlines racked up the most complaints and get a closer look at some of the worst air travel pet peeves 30,000 feet in the air.

Top Airline Passenger Pet Peeves

Plane etiquette can enter dicey territory when you’re stuck on an 8-hour flight. Can you ask to switch seats if your seatmate reeks of BO? Must you join in the seemingly obligatory clapping when your flight lands? We pulled back the flight curtain to discover Americans’ worst pet peeves, below. 

  • People’s biggest pet peeve is when the person behind them is kicking the back of their seat. Other top pet peeves across the board were when passengers are rude to the airport staff and when people cut in line.
  • Typically speaking, Americans would rather sit next to a crying baby than a fighting couple, but they would rather sit next to a dog than a baby. And, given the choice, they’d choose to be seatmates with someone who talks non-stop than someone with bad BO.
  • While 62.8% of Americans find it annoying when people stand before it’s their turn to deplane, surprisingly, only 40.8% find it annoying when people clap after a landing.

Airline Complaints and How Much They’re Worth

Some passengers may not know that they can get compensation when their flight is delayed or canceled. After all, you did pay for a seat on that flight with the reasonable expectation that, you know, you’d be able to board your flight. Still, this raises questions like how much compensation you deserve for your lost time due to a canceled flight. We gauged the temperature of this question and more with an in-depth look at some of Americans’ top pet peeves and the monetary value they deserve for each inconvenience. 

  • The biggest pet peeves people have about airlines are those directly related to the operations of their flights: cancellations (1st), delays (2nd), and mishandled baggage (3rd).
  • 50% of Americans think the appropriate compensation amount for a delayed flight of 6 hours or more is somewhere between $100 and $500
  • Generally speaking, Americans think lost baggage is worth more than a canceled flight. 20.4% think they should receive between $500 and $1,000 for lost bags. 14.2% think between $1,000 and $3,500 would cover it and nearly 1 in 10 (9.2%) would want over $3,500 if an airline lost all of their baggage on a flight.
  • One of Americans’ worst pet peeves is going through TSA, which they would break open the piggy bank to bypass. 1 in 4 Americans (26%) would pay up to $50 per flight, about 1 in 6 (17.4%) would pay between $51 and $100 per flight, and over 1 in 10 (11.6%) would pay between $101 and $250 per flight just to skip the TSA line.
  • Over half of Americans (52.8%) think airlines offer refunds that are too low.
  • Of the 20 largest U.S. airports, 14% of respondents say Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) is the one they have had the biggest complaints flying into or out of, which is the highest in the study. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) and Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) followed closely at 13% and 11%.

Hot Tip: Learn about the best credit cards with coverage for trip cancellations, trip delays, and delayed or lost baggage.

Biggest Traveler Complaints About U.S. Airlines

A graphic showing the U.S. airlines with the most and least customer complaints
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

While some passengers may be tempted to keep their best pet peeves to themselves, there is a time and place to make your frustrations known. People’s formal airline complaints can include everything from mishandled baggage and flight problems to ticketing and refunds. See which airlines have the best and worst customer service.

  • Spirit Airlines has the most complaints per passenger at 4.74 complaints per 100k enplanements. It also has the third most complaints overall, behind American Airlines and United Airlines.
  • Mesa Airlines, which services under American and United, fields the least complaints, relatively speaking, at just 0.37 complaints per 100k enplanements. It also fielded the least overall at just 112 complaints from August 2021 to August 2022.
  • Nearly half (49.88%) of all complaints for PSA Airlines, a subsidiary of American, were about flight problems, which doesn’t bode well for travelers who want to make it to their destination on time.
  • 42.53% of all the complaints with Hawaiian Airlines were about refunds, and 15.91% were about fares in general. 
  • 14.16% of all complaints about Envoy Air, another subsidiary of American, were related to baggage, which is unsurprising when you consider it mishandled the most bags per 100 out of all the airlines in our study.

Best and Worst Airlines for Cancellations and Mishandled Baggage

A graphic ranking U.S. airlines on arrival times, cancellations, and mishandled baggage
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

Missing baggage, delayed arrivals, and sudden cancellations are the necessary ingredients for most holiday disaster movies. And while we may enjoy watching this type of misery ensue for others onscreen, we certainly don’t wish it upon ourselves. Below, we break down which airlines are most and least likely to make you the star of the show for all the right or wrong reasons:

  • Endeavor Air, a subsidiary of Delta, has the highest on-time arrival percentage of any other airline at nearly 84%. 5 major airlines are above 80%, while 2 are below 70% (JetBlue and Allegiant).
  • Republic Airlines, an operator of regional flights for American, United, and Delta, has the highest percentage of canceled flights at 4.28%. On the other hand, Delta (1.38%), Hawaiian (1.62%), and United (1.98%) are all 3 below 2% when it comes to flight cancellations.
  • Envoy Air, a subsidiary of American Airlines, is the airline that mishandles the most baggage, relatively speaking, at 3.78 bags mishandled per 100 every month. Allegiant is the best in this regard with less than 1 bag mishandled per 100

Methodology

To discover Americans’ insights on air travel today, we took a look at the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Aviation Consumer Protection’s Air Travel Consumer Reports from August 2021 to August 2022 to find the U.S. airlines with the most on-time arrivals, flight cancellations, and mishandled baggage. We also found the types of complaints people make most often with individual airlines.

We then decided to take a closer look at other complaints people might have when traveling on flights by conducting a survey. We surveyed 500 Americans over a week in October 2022 to get their thoughts on appropriate compensation for common airline mistakes, which of those mistakes bothered them the most, and their top pet peeves when flying.

Final Thoughts

In an aircraft carrying hundreds of people, turbulence is unavoidable — and we’re not just talking about a bumpy ride. People’s pet peeves range from being bumped from a flight to having to endure a stinky passenger. However, some airlines still see the value in putting the customer first, such as Southwest and Delta, with both fielding fewer than 1 complaint per 100k enplanements.

To nail down the best airport for your needs, discover the average TSA security wait times by U.S. airport. Happy flying!

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About Alex Miller

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business, The New York Times, and more.

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