Snack box company settles FTC charges on incentives for positive reviews and phony ‘free’ offers
Consumer group asks federal agencies to stop the sale of contaminated poppy seeds

Delta tops airlines ratings for 2018

Delta Airlines on Ground 2 2

Delta Air Lines is No. 1, and JetBlue is No. 2, according to the 29th annual Airline Quality Rating released Monday.

Key findings show that three of the four factors tracked – involuntary denied boardings, mishandled bags, and customer complaints – improved for the airline industry in 2018. However, on-time performance slipped last year.

This year’s report also reveals the lowest rate of bumped passengers, the lowest rate of mishandled baggage, and the lowest rate of customer complaints about the industry since the Airline Quality Rating started in 1991.

Delta was the only airline to improve in all four categories. Six of the airlines rated performed better in 2018 compared to their 2017 scores. Those carriers were Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, and United. Airlines whose scores declined in 2018 were Alaska, American, and Frontier.

“Overall, another good year of the industry performance,” said Dean Headley, AQR co-author and emeritus professor of marketing at Wichita State University. “The best-ever industry AQR score for 2018 is largely due to improvements in the rate of involuntary denied boardings and the rate of customer complaints.”

The 2019 Airline Quality Rating is based on data collected during the 2018 calendar year.

This year’s rating

Below is the 2019 ranking of the nation’s largest nine airlines, according to the Airline Quality Rating, with the 2018 ranking in parentheses:

  1. Delta (2)
  2. JetBlue (3)
  3. Southwest (5)
  4. Alaska (1)
  5. Hawaiian (4)
  6. United (8)
  7. Spirit (12)
  8. American (9)
  9. Frontier (11)

The merger of Alaska and Virgin America was completed in April of 2018. The results for Alaska reflect the performance of the merged airlines for the entire year.

On-time performance

Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance, 89.3 percent, for 2018, and Frontier had the worst, 69.4 percent.

Four airlines improved their on-time arrival performance in 2018. Four of the nine airlines rated had an on-time arrival percentage of more than 80 percent. On-time performance for the industry in 2018 was 79.6 percent, compared to 80.2 percent in 2017.

Involuntary denied boardings

Delta was the industry leader in avoiding involuntarily denied boarding incidents in 2018 with a rate of 0.00 per 10,000 passengers. Hawaiian, JetBlue, and United followed with rates of 0.01 involuntary denied boardings per 10,000 passengers. Frontier had the highest involuntary denied boarding rate with 0.63 per 10,000 passengers.

Eight airlines improved their denied boardings rate in 2018. JetBlue recorded the largest improvement, and Frontier had the largest increase in the rate of denied boardings. Delta, 0.00, Hawaiian, 0.0, JetBlue, and United are the industry leaders in avoiding denied boarding incidents. Industry performance was better in 2018, 0.14 per 10,000 passengers, than it was in 2017, 0.34.

The industry performance is the lowest rate of involuntary denied boardings since the Airline Quality Rating started in 1991.

Baggage handling

Spirit had the best baggage handling rate, 1.76 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers, of all airlines, and American had the worst baggage handling rate, 3.83, mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers.

Three airlines improved mishandled baggage rates in 2018. The industry rate decreased from 2.46 per 1,000 passengers in 2017 to 2.43 in 2018.

The industry performance is the lowest rate of mishandled baggage since the Airline Quality Rating started in 1991.

Consumer complaints

Southwest had the lowest consumer complaint rate, 0.36 per 100,000 passengers, of all airlines. Frontier had the highest consumer complaint rate, 4.02 per 100,000 passengers.

Customer complaints per 100,000 passengers decreased from 1.35 in 2017 to 1.04 in 2018. The majority of complaints, 72 percent, to the U.S. Department of Transportation were for flight problems, 36.9 percent; baggage, 13 percent; customer service, 12.1 percent; and reservations, ticketing, and boarding, 10.1 percent.

The number of complaints received by the department was down by 23 percent in 2018 compared to 2017 numbers.

The Airline Quality Rating is a joint project funded as part of faculty research activities at the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Arizona, campus.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Tom Sightings

So if they're so good, why I am still a nervous flier?


I always love Southwest and had the worst experience flying American. Dirty plane and bad service. Sounds about right to me.


Hi Tom,

Well, I think the airlines are about all the same. The ratings show that show are a bit better than the others.

Good luck, nervous flyer.



Hi Rebecca,

I like Southwest, too. Too bad it doesn't fly to Europe, where I go twice a year.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)