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These 3 airlines drew the most passenger complaints in 2022

Airline passengers were in a generally foul mood last year, with complaints about everything from canceled flights to lost luggage surging to their highest level in years, a new analysis shows.

Travelers flooded the U.S. Department of Transportation, travel agents and third-party booking sites like Expedia and Priceline with nearly 78,000 grievances, including a barrage of complaints focused on delayed and scrapped flights around the end-of-year holidays, according to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). That's more than five times the roughly 15,000 complaints filed in 2019 before the pandemic. 

"To be clear, 2022 was a bad year for the airlines long before the Christmastime meltdown," Teresa Murray, a consumer watchdog for PIRG, said in the report. "But the year-end winter storm disaster that ruined holiday plans for millions of families added more fuel to efforts by regulators and lawmakers to improve consumer protections on everything from scheduling to junk fees to family seating."

Worst offenders

In a ranking of carriers, Frontier Airlines topped the list for the most complaints, with 20 grievances for every 100,000 passengers, PIRG said, which also found that the Denver-based budget airline had the worst record last year when it comes to involuntarily bumping passengers off flights. Spirit Airlines came in second with 10 complaints per 100,000 flyers, followed by JetBlue Airlines with nine.

Representatives for Frontier and Spirit didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. A JetBlue spokesman told CBS MoneyWatch that its delays and cancellations last year stemmed in part from the carrier's flights being concentrated in the Northeast, which contains the nation's busiest air routes. 

"In 2022, 76% of our operations touched congested airspace, compared to 42% for our closest competitor and other competitors ranging from 7% to 32%," he said. Although the Christmas and New Year's holidays were challenging for air travel, JetBlue didn't cancel any flights over Thanksgiving, the spokesman added.

Other airlines that ranked high in number of complaints last year include: Southwest, American, United, Delta and Allegiant.

Airlines for America, an industry trade group whose members include Delta, JetBlue and United, told CBS MoneyWatch last month that 66% of cancellations in 2022 were weather-related and out of airlines' control. 

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U.S. airlines canceled more than 190,000 domestic flights and delayed another 1.4 million, according to Transportation Department data. Aside from 2020, last year saw the greatest number of flight cancellations since 2001, when skies were empty following the September 11 terrorist attacks. 

Several factors played a role in the increased cancellations, including over-scheduled flights, flight crew shortages and a rebound in holiday travel. Flight cancellations grew so frequent last summer that U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was prompted to send a letter to airlines calling their performance "unacceptable."

Airline industry grievances reached a record high in 2020, with roughly 103,000 complaints, according to PIRG. 

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