“Since flights are so full, there are no seats on those next flights. So people say, ‘No, not for $500, not for $1,000,’” said airline industry analyst Robert W. Mann Jr.
Regional carrier SkyWest had the highest involuntary denied boardings rate last year, 2.32 per 10,000 passengers.
But not every airline overbooks flights in an effort to keep seats full. JetBlue and Virgin America were the industry leaders in avoiding denied boardings, with rates of 0.01 and 0.07, respectively.
United Airlines had the highest consumer complaint rate of the 14 airlines included in the report, with 4.24 complaints per 100,000 passengers. That was nearly double the airline’s complaint rate the previous year. Southwest had the lowest rate, at 0.25.
Consumer complaints were significantly higher in the peak summer travel months of June, July and August when planes are especially crowded.
“As airplanes get fuller, complaints get higher because people just don’t like to be sardines,” Mann said.
At the same time complaints were increasing, airlines were doing a better job of getting passengers to their destinations on time.
The industry average for on-time arrival rate was 81.8 percent of flights, compared with 80 percent in 2011. Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance record, 93.4 percent in 2012. ExpressJet and American Airlines had the worst records with only 76.9 percent of their planes arriving on time last year.
The industry’s on-time performance has improved in recent years, partly due to airlines’ decision to cut back on the number of flights.