An annual report released today shows that airlines are substantially improving the service provided to passengers in the US. In fact, your chances of getting bumped from a flight or being told your bags were mishandled in 2016 were the lowest in 26 years, according to performance reports from The Airline Quality Rating.
Although Alaska Airlines came out on top, with Delta coming in at a close second and Virgin America third, seven of the 12 airlines improved in all four categories of quality, including bumping ticketed passengers.
Nine of the 12 airlines improved in three measurements – on-time performance, baggage handling and customer complaints. Airlines that performed better last year were Alaska, American, Delta, ExpressJet, Frontier, SkyWest, Southwest, Spirit and United. Those whose scores declined in 2016 were Hawaiian, JetBlue and Virgin America, which had historically high ratings.
“Delta has climbed its way back to be a close contender for No. 1, after recovering from merger complications for several years,” said study co-researcher Brent Bowen, dean of College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona.
The Rankings of the Nation’s leading 12 airlines (with the 2015 ranking in parentheses):
1. Alaska (5)
2. Delta (3)
3. Virgin America (1)
4. JetBlue (2)
5. Hawaiian (4)
6. Southwest (6)
7. SkyWest (7)
8. United (8)
9. American (10)
10. ExpressJet (9)
11. Spirit (last)
12. Frontier (11)
On-time Performance – Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance (91.1 percent) for 2016, and Spirit had the worst (74.3 percent). Nine airlines improved their on-time arrival performance in 2016. Six of the 12 airlines rated had an on-time arrival percentage of better than 80 percent. On-time performance for the industry in 2016 was 81.4 percent, compared to 79.9 percent in 2015.
Involuntary Denied Boardings – Hawaiian and Delta were the industry leaders in avoiding involuntary denied boarding incidents in 2016 with a rate of 0.05 and 0.10 per 10,000 passengers, respectively. ExpressJet (1.51) had the highest involuntary denied boarding rate per 10,000 passengers. Seven airlines improved their denied boarding rate in 2016. SkyWest recorded the greatest improvement. Overall, the industry had 0.62 denied boardings per 10,000 passengers in 2016, compared to 0.76 in 2015– the best rate since the AQR started in 1991.
Baggage Handling – Virgin America had the best baggage handling rate (1.03 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers) of all airlines, and ExpressJet had the worst baggage handling rate (4.31). Nine airlines had improved mishandled baggage rates in 2016. The average industry rate decreased from 3.24 in 2015 to 2.70 in 2016– the best rate in the 26 years of AQR.
Consumer Complaints – Southwest had the lowest consumer complaint rate (0.47 per 100,000 passengers) of all airlines. Spirit had the highest consumer complaint rate (6.74). Customer complaints per 100,000 passengers decreased from 1.90 in 2015 to 1.52 in 2016. The majority of complaints (73.5 percent) to the Department of Transportation were for flight problems (41.4%), baggage (12.0%), customer service (10.5%), and reservations, ticketing and boarding (9.6%).
The Airline Quality Rating, conducted by researchers at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, is the nation’s longest-running study of airline performance and uses objective performance-based data.
See the full report, with details on each airline, at airlinequalityrating.com. You can also use a new feature where passengers can provide information and comments on the website about their personal flying experiences via the 2017 Airline Passenger Survey.