Report: Despite What Passengers Think, Airlines are 'Better than Ever'

Today’s release of the latest Airline Quality Rating report – featuring statistical rankings of 15 carriers over the past year – may surprise a lot of travelers. According to one of the authors of the respected study, “In the two decades we’ve tracked airline quality, 2011 was the best year ever.”

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Listen as air travel analyst Rick Seaney tells editor Anne McDermott about the good, the bad and the ugly airlines:

Low-Cost Airlines Rank Highest

The rating report, a joint undertaking by researchers at Purdue University and Wichita State University, evaluated the 15 largest U.S. airlines in four objective performance categories – and here’s what they found overall:

  • Bumping or denied boardings: Big improvement of nearly 28 percent over 2010
  • On-time arrival: Slight improvement of .25 percent over 2010
  • Mishandled baggage: Improved to 3.35 mishandled bags per 1,000 from 3.49 in 2010
  • Customer complaints: Dropped to 1.19 complaints per 10,000 passengers from 1.22 in 2010

Which airlines scored the highest? The so-called low-cost carriers. According to the AQR study authors, they offer a lot more than cheap flights – they also give passengers the basics that are important to them.

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Airlines with Best and Worst Scores

Here are the individual airline rankings from best to worst:

  1. AirTran
  2. Hawaiian
  3. JetBlue
  4. Frontier
  5. Alaska
  6. Delta
  7. Southwest
  8. US Airways
  9. SkyWest
  10. American
  11. Continental
  12. United
  13. Atlantic Southeast
  14. Mesa
  15. American Eagle

Notable Airline Standouts

Here are some more interesting nuggets gleaned from the report:

  • Biggest overall score improvement: Frontier
  • Lowest ‘lost bag’ rate: AirTran
  • Lowest customer complaint rate: Southwest
  • Repeat performers: AirTran, Hawaiian and JetBlue were also ranked 1-2-3 in 2010

Why Passengers Still Complain about Airlines

According to one media report, researchers said just because an airline gets you where you want to go without losing your bag doesn’t make necessarily make flying a pleasant experience which may in part explain all the continuous griping. The reason low-cost carriers did better? Chalk it up to lower expectations.

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The Air Quality Rating researchers released a companion survey to their report which showed the consumers believe Southwest is the best airline – even though statistically, it ranked in the middle of all carriers.

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Published: April 2, 2012