U.S. aviation ended 2023 on a better note for passengers with the lowest flight cancellation rate in at least 10 years, alongside expanded consumer protections for travelers.
“Thanks to the tireless work of our nation’s aviation safety professionals, millions of travelers were able to fly safely and without disruption last year,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We are glad to see this 10-year low rate of cancellations, and our Department will continue to take every step to ensure air travel is smooth and safe for passengers in the new year.”
In 2023, there were 16.3 million flights and a cancellation rate below 1.2 percent, the lowest rate in a decade.According to the Transportation Security Administration, 2023 was also the busiest year for air travel ever.
Travel around Christmas and New Year’s was notably smooth. From Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, to Monday, January 1, 2024, the cancellation rate was just 0.8 percent despite a record number of passengers flying during the busy holiday season. The cancellation rate during that same period in 2022 was 8.2 percent.
In addition to improving operations, the Department of Transportation has also expanded protections for airline passengers after Secretary Buttigieg pressured airlines to improve their customer service and launched an easy-to-use airline customer service dashboard with the airlines’ new commitments. Now, all 10 major airlines guarantee free rebooking and meals, and nine guarantee hotel accommodations when an airline issue causes a delay or cancellation.
Prior to this holiday travel season, Secretary Buttigieg announced a $140 million penalty against Southwest Airlines for failing passengers during the 2022 holiday meltdown. The action, which was in addition to over $600 million DOT already ensured was refunded to passengers, requires Southwest to establish a $90 million compensation system for future passengers affected by significant delays and cancellations. The penalty – 30 times larger than any previous penalty against an airline for consumer protection violations – sent a signal to airlines to step up for their passengers ahead of one of the busiest holiday travel periods on record.
Under Secretary Buttigieg, DOT has helped return over $3 billion in refunds and reimbursements to travelers, issued the largest ever fines against airlines for failing passengers, and is advancing the biggest expansion of airline consumer rights in decades.