How to file a complaint against an Airline

How to file a complaint against an Airline
People Clerk helps you with your small claims court lawsuit.

This article outlines the following ways to resolve your dispute against an airline:

Complaints Against Airlines Submitted to the Airline

One way to resolve your dispute against an airline is to file a complaint with the airline directly.

The DOT 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.

You can Write them a Demand Letter

Unsure of what to include in your demand letter?

Here are a few suggestions:

How to write a demand letter
How to Write a Demand Letter

Read More: How to write a letter outlining your complaint (also known as a "demand letter") here.

Complaints Against an Airline to the Department of Transportation

Already tried to submit the complaint to the airline? Consider filing a complaint with the Department of Transportation. The U.S. Department of Transportation (also known as DOT or the U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Aviation Consumer Protection) is a federal government branch regulating airlines that operate in the US.

Types of complaints:

The Department of Transportation receives many types of complaints against airlines. The most common are:

  • the airline oversold the flight.
  • the airline lost your luggage
  • the airline delayed your luggage
  • the airline damaged your luggage
  • the flight was delayed on the tarmac
  • obtaining a flight refund
  • the airline's ticketing practices
  • concerns with family seating
  • problem with the airline's frequent flyer program

DOT's Consumer Guide to Air Travel

The U.S. Department of Transportation has also published a Consumer Guide to Air Travel that outlines airline passenger's rights:

Overbooking/ Involuntarily Bumped off a Flight

If an airline left you behind because they overbooked a flight, you may be entitled to compensation:

  • "If you are bumped involuntarily and the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to get you to your final destination (including later connections) within one hour of your original scheduled arrival time, there is no compensation."
  • "If the airline arranges substitute transportation that is scheduled to arrive at your destination between one and two hours after your original arrival time (between one and four hours on international flights), the airline must pay you an amount equal to 200% of your one-way fare to your final destination that day, with a $675 maximum."
  • "If the substitute transportation is scheduled to get you to your destination more than two hours later (four hours internationally), or if the airline does not make any substitute travel arrangements for you, the compensation doubles (400% of your one-way fare, $1350 maximum)."

*See DOT Consumer Guide to Air Travel

Negotiating your compensation with an airline after being bumped-off

  • Airline Credit v. Cash (or Check): "Airlines may offer free tickets or dollar-amount vouchers for future flights in place of a check for denied boarding compensation. However, if you are bumped involuntarily you have the right to insist on a check if that is your preference."
  • Don't cash the check until you read the fine print: "Once you cash the check (or accept the free flight), you will probably lose the ability to pursue more money from the airline later on. However, if being bumped costs you more money than the airline will pay you at the airport, you can try to negotiate a higher settlement with their complaint department. If this doesn't work, you usually have 30 days from the date on the check to decide if you want to accept the amount of the check. You are always free to decline the check (e.g., not cash it) and take the airline to court to try to obtain more compensation. DOT's denied boarding regulation spells out the airlines' minimum obligation to people they bump involuntarily"

*See DOT Consumer Guide to Air Travel


  • If your suitcase/baggage is damaged, the airline may pay for repairs
  • If your suitcase is lost, the airline will pay for the lost baggage. Make sure to submit a claim with the airline on time.
  • Read more on DOT Consumer Guide to Air Travel

How to Submit Your Complaint to the DOT

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

  1. Click here to go to the DOT Complaint Form.
  2. 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, complaint (3,000 characters allowed)
  3. Make sure to click "yes" for the question "would you like a copy of this submission sent to your email?"

Pro Tip: Click "Get started" below and upload your evidence to the People Clerk Portal to obtain an organized Evidence Packet! We would love to help you with your small claims lawsuit against the airline company.

Department of Transportation Airline Complaint Form
Department of Transportation Airline Complaint Form

What to Expect Following Submission to the DOT

Once you have filed your complaint against an airline to the Department of Transportation ("DOT"), this is what you can expect:

  • The DOT will take several weeks to process your complaint.
  • The DOT will forward your complaint to the airline and request that the airline respond.
  • The DOT will assign an analyst to review your complaint and determine whether the airline is complying with federal aviation consumer protection laws and DOT regulations.
  • The DOT will use your complaint to:

"track trends or spot areas of concern that may warrant further action in the future. Complaints may also serve as a basis for rulemaking, legislation, and research."

The Office of Aviation Consumer Protection issues a monthly report on quality of services provided by airlines and includes a section on complaints against airlines.

"Your air travel service complaint will be included in the monthly [report], which is distributed to the industry and made available to the news media and the public so that both consumers and air travel companies can compare the complaint records of individual airlines and ticket agents."

File a Complaint with the BBB

One way of resolving your dispute with an airline is to file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau! The Better Business Bureau (also known as the BBB) serves as an intermediary between airlines and consumers.

Read more on how to file a complaint with the BBB here.

File a Small Claims Lawsuit in California

If you have a complaint or dispute under $10,000 against an airline, consider filing a lawsuit against the airline in small claims court.

Check out our interactive pricing tool to learn more about how much it will cost to sue an airline in small claims (around $30- $150).

California small claims FAQ:

  • What are small claims hearing like? Small claims hearings are quick and take about 15 minutes to present your case. Read more here.
  • How long does the small claims process take? 2-3 months from start to finish. Read more here.
  • How much can I sue for? You can sue an airline for up to $10,000. Read more here.
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