5 Ways to File a Complaint Against an Airline

Camila Lopez - Airlines - January 3, 2023

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We all know that when you travel there are many things that could and might go wrong. If you are experiencing problems with your luggage, an airline’s refund policy, or with a booked flight consider filing a complaint against the airline. In the article below, we go over how to file a complaint against an airline with various government and non-government organizations or with the airline itself. ‍

This article outlines 5 ways to file a complaint against an airline:

  1. File a complaint directly with the airline.

  2. Send a demand letter to the airline. 

  3. File a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

  4. File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau ("BBB").

  5. File a small claims lawsuit against the airline.

Learn more: How to Sue Southwest Airlines

Common Types of Complaints Filed Against an Airline 

Here are some common types of complaints filed against airlines with the DOT, small claims courts, and the BBB:

  • oversold flights and getting bumped from a flight. 

  • lost or delayed delivery of your luggage

  • breach of terms under its contract of carriage

  • refusals to honor refund policies

  • damaged luggage

  • flight delays.

  • flight cancellations. 

  • ticketing practices.

  • concerns with family seating.

  • problems with frequent flyer programs.

File a Complaint Directly With the Airline 

One way to resolve your dispute against an airline is to file a complaint with the airline directly. Most major airlines that fly into or out of the United States allow consumers to file a complaint with their customer service representative at the airport or over the phone. The airline probably also has a way to process complaints online. For example, United Airlines’ Baggage Service Office handles passenger issues relating to baggage. You can call the Baggage Service Office at 1-800-335-2247 or file a claim with United Airlines online

Further, the Department of Transportation (“DOT”), which is a federal agency that regulates airlines operating in the U.S., requires airlines to:

  • Confirm they have received a consumer complaint within 30 days.

  • Respond to consumer complaints within 60 days of receiving them.

  • Provide a complaint submission process on their website if they fly in or out of the United States.

  • State how and where complaints may be submitted, for airlines that fly to, from, or within the United States. 

Send a Demand Letter to the Airline

If the airline's complaint procedure is not clear or even if it is clear and you are having a hard time getting your complaint resolved, consider sending the airline a demand letter. A formal letter usually is taken more seriously than calling an airline. We have a free demand letter tool you can use to write a demand letter to the airline. The airline may agree to resolve your complaint without further action. 

File a Complaint With the Department of Transportation 

The DOT published a guide entitled Consumer Guide to Air Travel to help consumers understand their rights when flying. This guide goes over things like what to do if an airline overbooked your flight. The DOT also has an office of Aviation Consumer Protection (ACPD) which reviews and responds to consumer complaints against airlines.


The Department of Transportation receives many types of complaints against airlines, here are some of the most common types of U.S. DOT complaints consumers file: 

How to File a DOT Complaint Against an Airline 

Once you are ready to proceed with your complaint against an airline. Follow the steps below:

  1. Go to the DOT’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection and scroll down to where it says File a Consumer Complaint

  2. You will be redirected to the DOT Complaint Form. In order for a case to be processed as a complaint with the DOT, it must be submitted in writing. 

  3. To fill out the form you will need the following information handy: Your information (name, address, contact information), Airline Name, Flight Date, Flight Itinerary, and a description of the problem, incident, and complaint (3,000 characters allowed).

  4. The DOT Complaint Form opens with the question "would you like a copy of this submission sent to your email?" auto-filled as “no” as shown below. Make sure to click "yes" if you want a copy (we recommend you keep copies of any complaints you file).

What to Expect After You File a Complaint with the DOT

Keep in mind that the DOT cannot force an airline to resolve your complaint. They only require the airline to respond to your complaint. 

Here are the steps the DOT takes when processing consumer complaints against airlines: 

  1. A Transportation Industry Analyst (“DOT analyst”) will forward your complaint to the airline.

  2. The DOT requires airlines to provide consumers with a response to their complaints. 

  3. The DOT analyst will ask the airline to provide a copy of the response to the DOT only if it falls under one of the areas DOT enforces.

  4. The DOT analyst will then review the case.

  5. If your complaint does not appear to fall under any of the laws enforced by the DOT, it will still be logged in a database as a consumer complaint to help the DOT spot problems areas, or trends in the airline industry. 

Department of Transportation Airline Complaint Form

For disability and discrimination complaints the process is slightly different: 

  1. A DOT analyst will forward your complaint to the airline, and the airline will be required to respond to you just like with a regular complaint. 

  2. Once the airline’s response is received, a DOT analyst will review your complaint and the airline’s response to determine if a violation occurred.  

  3. After the DOT analyst reviews your case, it will be given to a DOT attorney for review.  

  4. Once your case is reviewed by a DOT attorney, an analysis of the DOT’s findings will be mailed to you.  

Be aware that these types of complaints may take some time to process. 

File a Complaint Related to Airline Safety or Security   

If you wish to file a complaint against an airline related to safety, file with the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”) instead of filing with the DOT.  The FAA handles complaints related to airline and airplane safety, like problems with emergency exit seating, low-flying aircraft, pilot licensing, etc. 

To submit a report to the FAA Hotline see the instructions below: 

  • Submit the report using the FAA Hotline Web Form, or 

  • Submit the report by mail to the mailing address below. 

Federal Aviation Administration

Office of Audit and Evaluation

800 Independence Avenue, S.W.

Washington, D.C. 20591

Attn: AAE-300, Room 911

If your airline complaint is related to a security matter, file a complaint with the Transportation Security Administration (“TSA”). 

Consumers with concerns about security should call TSA toll-free at 1-866-289-9673, or email TSA at TSA-ContactCenter@dhs.gov

File a Complaint With the Better Business Bureau 

Another way to resolve your dispute with an airline is tofile a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. The Better Business Bureau (“BBB”), is a nonprofit that serves as an intermediary between consumers and airlines. 

The BBB will review your complaint, forward it to the airline, and then give them a certain period of time to respond to your complaint. The BBB cannot force an airline to resolve your complaint or respond to your complaint. 

What if Filing a Complaint Doesn’t Work? Consider Suing In Small Claims Court

Unlike the DOT, FAA, and BBB, small claims courts actually have the authority to force an airline to make things right. This is because a judge will decide your complaint against an airline and will issue a decision on who is right between you and the airline. Small claims courts are known as the People’s Courts as they were created to give people without an attorney a chance of getting justice. The process is quick and affordable. You may file a lawsuit against an airline in small claims court as long as the amount you intend to sue for is within the small claims court limit (on average $10,000 or less). 

Up next: Learn more on how to sue an airline in small claims court.

Author

Camila Lopez

Chief Legal Architect & Co-Founder @ People Clerk. Camila holds a juris doctor degree and is a certified mediator. Her passion is breaking down complicated legal processes so that people without an attorney can get justice.

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