Survey: Airline customer complaints rose 30 percent in 2010

The nation's 16 largest airlines arrived on time more often, lost fewer bags and overbooked fewer flights in 2010 than the year before.Yet customer complaints rose nearly 30 percent.

"When it comes down to serving the customer well versus making money, the airlines are always going to take the money," said Wichita State University associate professor of marketing Dean Headley, co-author of the annual Airline Quality Rating report.

Headley wrote the 20th annual report with Brent Bowen, professor and head of the department of aviation technology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

Complaints to the Department of Transportation totaled 9,000 in 2010, compared with 7,000 in 2009, Headley said.

The biggest chunk of the complaints, 33 percent, involved flight problems, such as schedule changes, cancellations and missed connections.

Such problems put travelers in a difficult situation, Headley said.

"If you think about it, the airlines are doing it to themselves," Headley said. "They're reducing the number of seats, and they're filling the airplanes."

Airlines were on time an average of 80 percent of the time, according to the report. And that's "pretty good," Headley said.

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