Airline Complaints Up in 2012

Published by Anne McDermott on April 8, 2013

The latest Airline Quality Rating report is out and there's good news and bad news for the industry – and nation's passengers.

Listen: Air travel expert Rick Seaney has the story behind the ratings.

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The ratings – which cover 2012 – include Department of Transportation statistics and other weighted factors. It's a joint effort by Purdue University and Wichita State professors who have been churning out these figures for 23 years (see complete rankings by airline below).

What Airlines Got Right and Wrong

The key findings from the report:

  • Industry performance declined overall in 2012, but only slightly over 2011
  • On-time performance by airlines improved
  • Lost baggage rates improved
  • More passengers were bumped from flights
  • Consumer complaints increased

How much cash you're due if you get bumped

Consumer Complaints

Consumers registered 11,445 complaints about the airlines with the Dept. of Transportation last year, which was a rate of 1.43 per 100,000 passengers (compared to 1.19 per 100,000 in 2011). Note: these figures do not include complaints made directly to the airlines (unless they were also lodged with the DOT). Most complaints fell into three rather broad categories:

  • Flight problems 32.7%
  • Reservation, ticketing and boarding problems 14.6%
  • Customer service problems 14.3%

So which is the best – or busiest – airport?

Airlines with Most Complaints

United had far and away the most complaints with American a distant second followed by US Airways. The airline with the fewest complaints was Southwest. In fairness to United, 2012 was the year it integrated its website with merger partner Continental and to say there were problems is a wild understatement.

Airline Quality Rating Scores

What follows is the overall report rankings for the airlines, and note the many low-cost carriers in the top five, with the notable inclusion of legacy carrier Delta in the fourth spot.

1. Virgin America

2. JetBlue

3. AirTran

4. Delta

5. Hawaiian

6. Alaska

7. Frontier

8. Southwest

9. US Airways

10. American

11. American Eagle

12. SkyWest*

13. ExpressJet*

14. United

*Note: Neither ExressJet nor SkyWest sells tickets – instead, they operate as carriers for other legacy airlines. ExpressJet flies for American Eagle, Delta Connection and United Express. SkyWest also flies for those three plus US Airways Express and Alaska.

Airline Gains, Airline Losses

Overall performance declines were seen for Hawaiian which fell from second place in 2011 to fifth place last year, while SkyWest dropped from ninth place to twelfth  and Frontier dropped from the number four spot to seventh. On the plus side, American Eagle showed improvement, moving from last place to eleventh place while Delta advanced from sixth place to number four.

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