U.S. Airline Service Quality Shows Improvement in 2023

Aerial view of JFK Airport
Antony-22, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently released its Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR) for December 2023 and the full year.

The Report highlights some generally positive trends in airline service quality for the year. This report provides valuable insights for both travelers and the aviation industry.

Key Findings

  • Flight Cancellations: The cancellation rate in 2023 dropped significantly compared to previous years, with only 1.29% of flights canceled across the 10 largest U.S. airlines. This represents a substantial improvement from 2.71% in 2022 and marks the lowest cancellation rate in over a decade for the National Airspace System.
  • On-Time Performance: While December 2023’s on-time arrival rate of 83.9% was slightly lower than November 2023, it was significantly higher than December 2022’s 69.0%. For the entire year, the on-time arrival rate reached 78.34%, exceeding the rate in 2022.
  • Other Improvements: The report also indicated improvements in various areas, including:
    • Reduced rates of mishandled wheelchairs, scooters, and baggage.
    • Fewer denied boardings.
    • Decreased number of tarmac delays.
View of Denver International Airport at dusk.
Photo Credit: Denver International Airport

Increased Flight Operations

The report also details an increase in flight operations compared to previous periods. December 2023 saw a 10.35% year-over-year increase in operated flights compared to December 2022, reflecting a potential rebound in travel demand.

This increase comes after a period of pandemic-related disruptions and suggests a return to normalcy for the aviation industry.

However, it’s important to note that this data only captures December 2023 and further monitoring is needed to gauge the long-term trends in flight operations.

Tarmac Delays

The report highlighted a significant decrease in tarmac delays exceeding three or four hours, both domestically and internationally, in 2023 compared to 2022.

  • Domestic: Throughout 2023, airlines reported 289 tarmac delays lasting longer than three hours on domestic flights, a substantial decrease compared to the 376 reported in 2022.
  • International: Similarly, international flights saw a significant reduction in extended tarmac delays, with only 27 exceeding four hours in 2023 compared to 42 in 2022.

December 2023 Data

  • Domestic: December 2023 also saw fewer tarmac delays compared to November 2023, with five domestic flights exceeding three hours on the tarmac compared to two in the previous month.
  • International: December 2023 brought even better news for international travelers. There were zero reported delays exceeding four hours on international flights, compared to one in November 2023.
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Interior of Ontario International Airport terminal.
Photo Credit: Ontario International Airport

Consumer Complaints

The release of air travel service complaint data in the ATCR was delayed due to a high volume of complaints. These were received and processed by the Office of Aviation Consumer Protection (OACP).

This high volume itself can be interpreted in different ways. On one hand, it could indicate a genuine increase in service issues faced by travelers.

Alternatively, it could also reflect increased awareness and willingness of passengers to voice their concerns.

Regardless of the reason, the DOT’s efforts to modernize its complaint handling system are a positive step. This works to improve the experience for consumers and ensuring airlines are held accountable for their service quality.


Overall, the DOT’s Air Travel Consumer Report provides encouraging news for travelers. The positive trend in airline service quality throughout 2023 bodes well for the coming year.

The report’s findings can also guide airlines in further enhancing their services and meeting the evolving needs of passengers. While there are still areas for improvement, the industry appears to be moving in the right direction.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
4 Min Read
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