May Turned Out To Have The Lowest Number Of Flights In US History

May turned out to be a pretty bad month for airlines. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) released statistics for airline operations in May. The most shocking monthly statistic indicated that US airlines operated an all-time monthly low since the DOT has been tracking data for monthly flights. May beat out April, which beat out the previous low back in 1994.

US carriers to receive payroll bailout
With hundreds of aircraft parked across the US, May saw the lowest number of operated domestic flights in over 25 years. Photo: Getty Images

A record low number of flights

In bare scheduling numbers, the ten marketing network carriers in the US reported 192,412 scheduled domestic flights. This was down from April 2020, which had 331,238 scheduled flights. In May 2019, the ten airlines scheduled 694,331 domestic flights.

Of those 192,412 flights, 12,261 (or 6.4% of those flights) were canceled. This lead to an all-time monthly low of 180,151 flights in May 2020. This was even lower than April, which saw 194,390 flights operate. The previous low before both of these months was February 1994, with 370,027 flights. That 1994 report only included operating carriers and not codeshare partners, which are now included.

Spirit Airlines led the way in terms of lowest cancellations

Spirit Airlines canceled no flights in May. Below is the ranking of airlines from best to worst in terms of May operations canceled:

  1. Spirit Airlines (0.0% canceled)
  2. Frontier Airlines (0.2% canceled)
  3. Hawaiian Airlines [including regional operations] (0.3% canceled)
  4. American Airlines [including American Eagle operations] (1.1% canceled)
  5. United Airlines [including United Express] (4.1% canceled)
  6. Delta Air Lines [including Delta Connection] (5.1% canceled)
  7. Alaska Airlines [including regional operations] (5.8% canceled)
  8. Southwest Airlines (5.9% canceled)
  9. JetBlue Airways (7.7% canceled)
  10. Allegiant Air (53.6% canceled)
Spirit a320
Spirit Airlines had zero cancelations in May. Photo: Getty Images

The overall monthly canceled flight rate was 6.4%. This was much lower than April, which had a canceled flight rate of over 41%. By May, airlines had an idea for how low demand was and consolidated operations, received service exemptions, and parked most of their planes, leading to more stable operations. Allegiant, which has a point-to-point model operating on a leisure model, was a little less reliable in terms of operations. Despite that, Allegiant had a pretty decent May.

Allegiant plane
Allegiant Air canceled over 50% of scheduled operations. Photograph provided courtesy of Denver International Airport.

Refunds were the number one cause of complaints

In May 2020, there were 21,914 complaints filed with the DOT. The lion’s share of those complaints was for refunds. Here is a breakdown by category:

  1. Refunds (20,915 complaints)
  2. Fares (344 complaints)
  3. Reservations/ticketing/boarding (341 complaints)
  4. Customer Service (107 complaints)
  5. Flight cancellations (71 complaints)
  6. Baggage (56 complaints)
  7. Frequent flyer program (24 complaints)
  8. Disability (18 complaints)
  9. Other (17 complaints)
  10. Flight delay (12 complaints)
  11. Misconnection (7 complaints)
  12. Oversales (2 complaints)

In terms of airlines with the most complaints about refunds, here’s how they ranked:

  1. United Airlines (3,215)
  2. American Airlines (1,024)
  3. Delta Air Lines (945)
  4. Frontier Airlines (887)
  5. Hawaiian Airlines (398)
  6. Southwest Airlines (307)
  7. JetBlue Airways (296)
  8. Alaska Airlines (271)
  9. Spirit Airlines (193)
  10. Allegiant Air (82)
  11. Sun Country Airlines (64)
  12. Endeavor Air [regional carrier] (31)
  13. SkyWest Airlines [regional carrier] (30)
  14. Silver Airways [regional carrier] (22)
  15. Republic Airways [regional carrier] (18)
  16. Horizon Airlines [regional carrier] (14)
  17. Other airlines (12)
  18. Eastern (3)
United planes SFO
United had more refund complaints than any other airline in both April and May this year. Photo: Getty Images

Foreign airlines also saw a significant number of complaints about refunds. Below are the top ten:

  1. Air Canada (1,705)
  2. TAP (901)
  3. Lufthansa (557)
  4. Aeromexico (401)
  5. Volaris (386)
  6. Norwegian (365)
  7. WestJet (346)
  8. Avianca (311)
  9. British Airways (287)
  10. KLM (256)

Amid the ongoing crisis, airlines have tried to skirt around refunds as much as possible. United has made several changes to its policies, and Air Canada took a relatively active stance against providing some refunds. It is unsurprising to see so many people file for refund requests. Earlier this year, US airlines had to be reminded by the DOT that refunds were not optional in many airline-related cancellations. And, in May, five US senators joined together on a bill to expand air travel refunds.

What do you make of the DOT’s May report? Let us know in the comments!

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