April Saw The Lowest Number Of Operated Flights In The US Since 1994

The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) released statistics about April 2020’s operations. The month was arguably the worst thus far for airlines as the COVID-19 pandemic forced states into lockdowns and quarantines, leading to the shut down of bars, restaurants, and major tourist attractions. In total, April 2020 saw the lowest number of operated flights in a given month since February 1994.

Delta A220
April was a rough month for airlines, who mainly flew smaller jets. Photograph provided courtesy of Denver International Airport

A record low number of flights

The DOT recorded that airlines in the United States reported 331,238 scheduled domestic flights in April 2020. Scheduling-wise, this was lower than the 701,278 from March of this year and 668,259 of April from last year. Flight-wise, airlines reported an all-time monthly low of 194,390 flights in April 2020. The previous low was recorded in February 1994 at 370,027. In March 2020, the airlines combined operated around 583,000 flights.

Counting canceled flights, the DOT recorded the lowest all-time monthly low on-time arrival rate of 55.7% since the DOT began reporting these statistics in 1987.

AMerican and southest
Southwest and American both canceled a large number of scheduled flights in April. Photo: Getty Images

Below are the number of airports that carriers operated at in April 2020 versus in April 2019:

  • Alaska Airlines: 95 in 2020 vs. 96 in 2019
  • Allegiant Air: 119 vs. 120
  • American Airlines: 230 vs. 235
  • Delta Air Lines: 216 vs. 216
  • Frontier Airlines: 96 vs. 97
  • Hawaiian Airlines: 10 vs. 22
  • JetBlue Airways: 62 vs. 63
  • Southwest Airlines: 89 vs. 87
  • Spirit Airlines: 51 vs. 45
  • United Airlines: 233 vs. 233

The above numbers also include flights operated by regional carriers like SkyWest and Envoy. There were no drastic changes in airport operations. This is mostly because, after receiving funding from the United States government, airlines were forced to maintain a minimum level of service to points across the United States. While most airlines received waivers, those exceptions were not granted or did not kick in until May.

Service to many smaller destinations on regional jets is done through contracts with regional carriers under separate brands. Photo: Getty Images

The canceled flight rate of 41.3% was the highest monthly rate on record. It beat September 2001, which saw 20.2%. March 2020 was the third-highest on record at 16.9%. April 2019 only saw a cancellation rate of 2.4%.

Lots of complaints

Compared to April 2019, customer complaints were up 1,546.4%. Last year, the DOT only received 1,206 complaints in April. This year, that number was 19,856. This was up 292.1% from March of this year, which saw 5,064 complaints.

Unsurprisingly, the largest category of complaints was for refunds. 17,387 people filed refund-related complaints. This even led to a rebuke from the DOT, warning carriers over refunds. Perhaps unsurprisingly, United received the most complaints in this category out of all airlines:

  1. United: 2,727 complaints
  2. American Airlines: 1,173
  3. Frontier Airlines: 850
  4. Delta Air Lines: 732
  5. Southwest Airlines: 521
  6. JetBlue Airways: 452
  7. Spirit Airlines: 365
  8. Alaska Airlines: 295
  9. Hawaiian Airlines: 197
  10. Allegiant Air: 149
  11. Sun Country Airlines: 118
  12. Silver Airways: 38
  13. SkyWest Airlines: 20
  14. Republic Airways: 9
  15. Horizon Airlines: 8
  16. Endeavor Air: 6
Delta and United
United registered over 2,700 complaints on refunds while Delta received just over 700. Photo: Getty Images

The last four are regional carriers that mainly operate on behalf of major US airlines to smaller destinations in the US using regional jets.

Will the trend continue?

Airlines have started to rebuild their networks. Nearly every airline is adding on more flights or else reinstating services to more cities. Some are even jumping the gun, taking this opportunity to launch new flights. This includes Frontier and JetBlue.

However, while the number of operated flights will increase, expect airlines to operate to fewer points due to minimum service exemptions. Hawaiian, however, might not see an increase until later this summer when its home state begins to open up for more tourists.

Did you have a chance to fly in April? Did you file a DOT complaint about refunds in April? What do you make of these statistics? Let us know in the comments!