Air Travel Quality Report: Some Up, Some Down

If you happened to catch that story headlined “airport hell” you might think air travel quality is worse than ever but like most things, it’s not so simple. There is good and bad in a new ratings report but ultimately the positives outweigh the negatives.

What Airlines Did Right

According to the annual summary from the respected Airline Quality Rating Report, the airlines improved overall in 2013 and it gets even better: “The AQR score for 2013 was the best industry score for all of the 23 year history of the [ratings].”

Two key areas where the airlines showed improvement:

  • Bumping: The rate of bumped passengers (involuntarily denied boardings) dropped from 0.97 in 2012 to 0.81 in 2013 (per 100,000 passengers).
  • Complaints: The rate of passengers who complain to the Department of Transportation dropped from 1.43 in 2012 to 1.13 in 2013 (per 100,000 passengers).

However, do not mistake a dropping complaint-rate with total satisfaction.

What the Airlines Did Wrong

This is where the airlines fell down.

  • On-time arrival: These  rates fell significantly, from 81.8 percent in 2012, to 78.4 percent in 2013.
  • Mishandled bags: Though still relatively rare, reports of mishandled bags (which includes lost bags) rose from 3.07 per 1,000 passengers in 2012 to 3.21 per 1,000 passengers in 2013. Still, that’s better than the overall global rate of 3.3 and better than the overall North America rate of 3.22.

Best and Worst Airlines

Individual airlines with the highest and lowest overall Air Quality Ratings.

Highest AQR Scores

Lowest AQR Scores

1. Virgin America 11. Frontier
2. Jet Blue 12. United
3. Hawaiian 13. ExpressJet
4. Delta 14. SkyWest
5. Alaska 15. AirTran


Where was Southwest? Smack in the middle at number eight.

Got a complaint? Here’s how to file

About Those Complaints

It has been suggested by some that the reason complaints fell was because we’ve got used to abuse and there may be some truth in that. Another thought: These complaint rates are only formal criticisms made to the Department of Transportation and do not include gripes lodged with individual carriers and maybe it’s too much trouble to complain to the DOT. If you have any thoughts on this, we’d love to hear.


Updated: November 16, 2015