The USA’s busiest-ever year for air travel also saw the lowest rate of flight cancellations since 2016, which the country’s aviation authorities tout as a result of aggressive airline oversight. 

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) said on 3 January that, of 16.3 million airline flights in 2023, less than 1.2% were cancelled. 

“Travel around Christmas and New Year’s was notably smooth,” says the DOT. 

US airport aircraft queue

Source: MC Mediastudio/Shutterstock

US aviation authorities report that 2023 was the country’s busiest year for air travel ever 

For comparison, 2.3% of US flights were cancelled in 2022 as airlines struggled to ramp up operations to meet post-Covid demand for air travel.  

The cancellation rate during the busy end-of-2023 travel season was 0.8%, compared with 8.2% during the same period of 2022, when Southwest Airlines’ nationwide operational meltdown cancelled some 17,000 flights. 

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has taken a hawkish stance on oversight of US airlines, pushing for greater consumer protections and recently penalising Southwest $140 million for its 2022 performance. That includes establishing a $90 million compensation system for future delays and cancellations.  

The DOT says that, under Buttigieg, it has “helped return over $3 billion in refunds and reimbursements” to passengers who have experienced air travel disruptions and claims to be ”advancing the biggest expansion of airline consumer rights in decades”.