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Airline performance continues to improve in 2013, annual rating shows

Virgin America 2Airline performance in 2013 was the highest since the Airline Quality Rating started in 1991.

Of the 15 carriers rated for performance in 2012 and 2013, eight airlines improved, six airlines declined, and one is new to the rankings, according to the 24th annual Airline Quality Rating released Monday.

The industry improved in two of the four categories of the Air Quality Rating: involuntary denied boardings and customer complaints. However, performance declined in on-time performance and baggage handling.

"While airline operational performance is at an all-time record high, this does not translate to customers being happy,” said Brent Bowen, dean of College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. "Because airlines are solving operational issues and advancing in AQR elements, it is time to begin a new focus on serving travelers and expanding customer service.

"These results show that airlines that intend to do better, are doing better and improving,” Bowen said. “Those losing focus have declined.

Although the ratings offer good news, he said the flying public should be informed of and alarmed about a shortage of pilots and the looming personnel crisis in Air Traffic Control because of a hiring rule change that eliminates the most qualified applicants.

This year's rating

Below is the 2013 ranking of the nation's 15 largest airlines, according to the Airline Quality Rating, with the 2012 ranking in parentheses:

  1. Virgin America (1)
  2. JetBlue (2)
  3. Hawaiian (5)
  4. Delta (4)
  5. Alaska (6)
  6. Endeavor – new to the rankings this year; formerly Pinnacle
  7. US Airways (9)
  8. Southwest (8)
  9. American (10)
  10. AirTran (3)
  11. Frontier (7)
  12. United (14)
  13. ExpressJet (13)
  14. SkyWest (12)
  15. American Eagle (11)

Virgin America and JetBlue continue to be ranked No. 1 and 2 in 2013. Hawaiian, US Airways, and United improved two places.

The biggest drop was AirTran from No. 3 to 10. Frontier and American Eagle dropped four places.

On-time performance

Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance, 93 percent, and American Eagle had the worst, 72.1 percent.

Only two airlines improved their on-time arrival performance in 2013. Six of the 15 airlines rated had an on-time arrival percentage of better than 80 percent.

On-time performance for the industry in 2013 was 78.4 percent compared to 81.8 percent in 2012.

Denied boardings

JetBlue and Virgin America are the industry leaders in avoiding denied boarding incidents with a rate of 0.01 and 0.04 per 10,000 passengers.

SkyWest had the highest involuntary denied boarding rate at 2.55 per 10,000 passengers.

Eight airlines improved their denied boardings rate in 2013. United had the greatest improvement, and Frontier had the largest decline.

Overall, the industry had 0.89 denied boardings per 10,000 passengers in 2013, compared to 0.97 in 2012.

Baggage handling

Virgin America had the best baggage handling rate, 0.97 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers, and American Eagle had the worst, 5.90 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers.

Only five airlines improved mishandled baggage rates in 2013.

The industry rate increased from 3.07 per 1,000 passengers in 2012 to 3.21 in 2013.

Consumer complaints

Southwest again had the lowest consumer complaint rate, 0.34 per 100,000 passengers. Frontier had the highest consumer complaint rate, 3.09 per 100,000 passengers.

Customer complaints per 100,000 passengers decreased from 1.43 in 2012 to 1.13 in 2013.

The majority of complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation were for flight problems, 35.9 percent; customer service, 14.4 percent; baggage, 14.2 percent; and reservations, ticketing, and boarding, 12.8 percent.

The Airline Quality Rating is a joint research project funded as part of faculty research activities at Wichita State University, Wichita, Kan. and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Ariz.

Copyright 2014, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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