Airline Report Card: Best and Worst Airlines

Best and Worst Airlines

The latest numbers are available from the U.S. government’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) and you may be surprised at how well some of the airlines are doing. On the other hand, some are not doing so well.

FareCompare CEO Rick Seaney talked about grading the airlines with editor Anne McDermott in the podcast below. Give it a listen; they sure had some fun with this topic.

These latest statistics cover June 2011. Here’s what we’ve learned:

On-Time Performance: Grade C

The overall on-time performance rate was 76.9%. Here are the best of the bunch:

  1. Hawaiian
  2. Alaska
  3. Southwest

The worst of the bunch:

  1. Atlantic Southeast
  2. ExpressJet
  3. US Airways

By the way, Hawaiian Airlines almost always wins and no wonder; the weather is great and more than 85% of the carrier’s flights are inter-island hops. And let’s not be too hard on the others, either, since weather was responsible for more than a third of all delays (yes, in June, but summer weather is often worse than winter).

Lost Baggage: Grade C-Plus

Why a C+ and not an F? Because the airlines are getting better with bags. For example, back in 2007, the rate of “mishandled  baggage” was 7.34 reports per 1,000 passengers, but this past June, the number of such reports dropped to 3.64.

Do You Know What to Do if Your Bag is Lost?

The best airlines for not losing your bags:

  1. AirTran
  2. JetBlue
  3. Frontier

The airlines with the highest rates of mishandled baggage:

  1. American Eagle
  2. Mesa
  3. Atlantic Southeast

In fairness, the bottom slots change around a lot; AirTran, however, is often in the top spot.

Complaints about Air Travel: Grade C-Minus

It should be noted these complaints are only those made directly to the Department of Transportation (and they’ve made it easy to file a complaint); it does not include those made directly to the airlines. In June of 2011, there were just 1,127 complaints recorded which doesn’t sound like much meaning most people either went directly to their carrier with complaints or perhaps are too beaten down to bother. Or, maybe everything is wonderful! You tell me.

Airlines with fewest complaints were small regionals like Precision Airlines and Trans States Airlines but they also included bigger names like Frontier, Hawaiian and United Express.

Airlines with most complaints:

  1. American
  2. US Airways
  3. United

In all fairness, one reason why the above legacy carriers got more complaints than others may be because they simply have more flights. However, Southwest, which was second only to Delta in numbers of domestic passengers in June 2011 had just 34 complaints while Delta’s 109. It’s possible Southwest passengers  have lower expectations from the no-frills carrier (or as its CEO is fond of saying, “the right expectations”).

How can an airline score an A from me? With an on-time performance of 90+ percent, no lost bags, and hardly any complaints. And believe me, I wish all the airlines the best of luck.


Published: August 17, 2011