The dust-up between conservative pundit Ann Coulter and Delta last week is only the latest in a series of disputes between harried travelers and the overbooked airlines that are pushing some customers to the edge.
From forcibly removing passengers to planes to mysterious animal deaths, the airlines have faced a string of unpleasant incidents that have morphed into an ongoing public relations nightmare.
While the vast majority of flights still take off without a hitch, the buzz around these events may have be leading more consumers to complain about their own treatment and experience. Data released last month by the Department of Transportation showed that the number of complaints against airlines in April skyrocketed nearly 70 percent to 1,909 complaints, a big increase on both a month-to-month and a year-to-year basis.
The complaints appear to have spiked after United Airlines notoriously forcibly removed a Kentucky doctor from an overbooked plan on April 9. The DOT data show an uptick in every category of complaints.
Rising passenger dissatisfaction comes as more people are flying in seats that are getting increasingly smaller. Trade group Airlines for America expects summer air travel to increase 4 percent to a record high this year, with its members carrying more than 234 million people from June to August. To accommodate the increased demand, airlines have added about 123,000 seats per day to their schedule.
Airline executives are aware of the toll the fracases are taking, and after some missteps have been trying to apologize quickly for incidents in which passengers are mistreated. They’ve also begun changing the policies under which they can involuntarily bump a passenger.