A Delta Air Lines Boeing 757 - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

A Delta Air Lines Boeing 757 – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Every month, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) releases a load of airline statistics ranging from on-time performance rankings to lost bag rates and simple info requests. Within the monthly data dump sits the number of complaints the DOT received about airlines for that particular month. You’ve probably seen the new headlines like “airline complaints spike in 2014,” or something like that. That data comes from the DOT releases.

Buried in the 47 page monthly DOT report, the word "compliment" is mentioned twice

Buried in the 47-page monthly DOT report, the word “compliment” is mentioned twice

Buried in a recent release, I noticed that the DOT also reported airline compliments in addition to complaints. While complaints sometimes tally over 2,000 per month (2,205 in August 2015), the number of compliments ranges anywhere from none at all to maybe one or two. In the August 2015 release, a whopping three airline compliments were received, and I couldn’t help but wonder what they said. I simply had to know more.

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

I wanted to read these compliments, so I sent the DOT a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the letters. I was careful to make sure that whomever read my request knew I was looking for compliments, rather than complaints, since the two words are comically similar. I had my doubts that it would work, but three weeks later, an email was sent to me containing the three airline compliments for August of 2015.

Of the three airline compliments, two were concerning Delta Air Lines and the other was about Alaska Airlines, the text of which are contained below. None of the compliments are anything particularly shocking or unexpected. Rather, they are simply good people doing good things, and good people taking the time to make sure it gets recognized.

So why are so few airline compliments sent to the DOT every month? For one thing, it turns out that you can’t actually send the DOT a compliment. You can select a complaint on the DOT site, but to send a compliment you actually have to use the complaint form. Even if you do take it upon yourself to send a compliment, they really don’t do anything but sit in a government database.

So what have we learned from this experience? Although the airline industry has a reputation for poor service and apathetic employees, there is obviously some good occurring. Some passengers are so impressed that they even take the time to write the federal government about it. The next time you fly and an airline goes above and beyond for you, don’t forget that you can tell Uncle Sam about it.  Read on:

DOT Compliment 1

DOT Compliment 2

DOT Compliment 3

CORRESPONDENT - NEW YORK, NY. Jason is an #AvGeek that does passenger experience research, data analysis, and writes things about airlines, airplanes and travel. Email: jason@airlinereporter.com.

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I’m a huge believer in complimenting airlines, but I never thought of using the DOT as the vehicle. I often tweet at airlines after a good flight – sometimes even down to dates and flight numbers. I don’t know that it does any good, but I’ll keep doing it. And of course, in blog posts, too.

I should also think about the ground staff a bit more. I’ve met some really nice airline employees on the ground.

Hmm… this brings up an interesting thought… how to best get compliments to airlines. Quite a few resources on how to yell at them… and I know some airlines use social media to get compliments to their employees. With having internal contacts, I typically use them to give my kudos, knowing they get to the people on power and the person too. We have a story on how to submit airline complaints, but maybe we need to do one on how to give them compliments…

David | AirlineReporter

JL Johnson

Like Justin, I believe in the power of feedback both reinforcing positive behaviors as well as highlighting opportunities for improvement. I have never considered using the DOT as a vessel for this but thanks to your piece I will keep it in mind. Additionally, some airlines, for example Southwest, give elites recognition slips to pass out to their employees when they are “caught doing something right.”



Very heartwarming and a great article for Thanksgiving (day I read it). Somehow it seems easier to complain rather than compliment, but it’s an excellent thing to do for airlines and other service providers, when people go the extra mile. Good also to read the disabled person’s view since I’m often told that wheelchair users want to be treated as everyone else, but often clearly need assistance and yes, the individual does know what’s most helpful. My own (albeit limited) experience is that US carriers tend to be better than those of other nations and in truth most things that go wrong for pax were down to events outside the airline’s control, so it mostly seems unfair to complain unless met with outright rudeness (which I’ve luckily never experienced when flying. I would like to know who to complain to about the other passengers though.


Wonderful article, and I like David’s idea. I try to always be curtious to the crew caring for the flight I’m on, and will occasionally reach out via social media or website if I want to give a more heartfelt thank you. I did not realize DOT tracked compliments and I’m happy to learn of this avenue for feedback!

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