Atlanta TRACON
Click on the photograph for an enlarged view of this sample radar screen which is used in the training room of the TRACON facility. Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

More Flights and Fewer Cancellations For 2023 in the United States

Are the statistics really something about which to boast?

More flights and fewer cancellations for 2023 nationwide have been reported by the Department of Transportation of the United States as it boasts that the cancellation rate of flights is the lowest in at least ten years and consumer protections for travelers have been expanded.

More Flights and Fewer Cancellations For 2023 in the United States

“In 2023, there were 16.3 million flights and a cancellation rate below 1.2 percent, the lowest rate in a decade. According to the Transportation Security Administration, 2023 was also the busiest year for air travel ever”, according to this official press release from the Department of Transportation. “Travel around Christmas and New Year’s was notably smooth. From Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023, to Monday, January 1, 2024, the cancellation rate was just 0.8 percent despite a record number of passengers flying during the busy holiday season. The cancellation rate during that same period in 2022 was 8.2 percent.”

a graph of a schedule
Source: Aviation System Performance Metrics Preliminary Data through December 31 of each year and updated on Tuesday, January 2, 2024. Caveat: 2020 data have been excluded.

A significant factor of the poorer record of the cancellation of flights for 2022 was when Southwest Airlines suffered from a notorious meltdown of its operations, for which it agreed to pay $140 million, from which weather was not the only contributing component — even though 71.6 percent of the delays in flights was caused by weather.


a screenshot of a computer
Click on the graphic to view its original interactive source. Source: Operations Network Preliminary Data through December 24 of each year and updated on Sunday, December 31, 2023.


In addition to improving operations, the Airline Family Seating Dashboard was introduced by the Department of Transportation on Sunday, March 5, 2023 is designed to assist consumers in selecting an airline which has committed to guaranteeing that an adult passenger who is accompanied by a child who is 13 years of age or younger will sit together in adjacent seats aboard an airplane throughout the entire duration of the flight at no additional cost for all types of fares. As a result, all ten major airlines currently guarantee free rebooking of tickets and meals; and nine of them guarantee lodging accommodations when an airline issue causes a delay or cancellation.

Final Boarding Call

Atlanta TRACON
Photograph ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

Although airlines can certainly seem to be callous when serving their customers — or offering a lack of service thereof — I highly doubt that they intentionally want to cause flight delays and cancellations; as doing so would impair their operations and sources of revenue…

…so my question is: other than for the holiday travel season of 2023, are the statistics and apparent rhetoric from the Department of Transportation really something about which to boast?

All photographs ©2017 by Brian Cohen.

  1. Complaining about air travel will never go out of style. But in 2023, I did almost 280 segments as a paying passenger, all domestic and average flight was around 600 miles. I was outright canceled only once (Frontier – and it worked out, I was planning to no show the flight anyway, and I got a voucher and refund). Three times delays made me change my flight plans or buy a new flight while on a trip (twice by Advanced Air, once by Silver Airways). I only had 2 delays that I would count as significant and required sticking it out.. both with United and were last flight of the night and were each 4-5 hours late. But both were handled very well and people didn’t get upset (at ORD, same Supervisor stayed visible at the gate handing out water and snacks and stuck around all the way to coming on the plane at 2am to apologize one last time).

    All that to say, yeah, I think the nation’s air system performed pretty well in 2023.

    A few years back when the tarmac rule stuff and more attention on cancelations went in, airlines were horrible about hanging onto a flight at any cost, with 24 hour delays and other ridiculous things that even had the airline employees amongst us begging “Just cancel the dang thing already so we can get rid of the people!” The “consumer protections” really incited some anti-consumer behavior to comply. But probably fairer weather and less FAA-induced meltdowns helped this year. Maybe the DOT wants to pat the FAA on the back for not having to throw flow control through Florida every single day for lack of staffing?

    The flip side of this is that airline complaints to the DOT are so high they haven’t published complaint data in the ATCR in quite some time. To your key point: airlines aren’t intentionally delaying or canceling flights as that’s a huge expense (back in my airline finance days our leadership wanted interrupted trip totals daily). So customer handling/service is the issue and DOT can’t report a success story there and has yet to really do anything to drive that metric anywhere but up.

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