Newswise — WASHINGTON, D.C. — Airline passengers are experiencing better performance by the airlines, even though it may cost them more to fly.
For the fourth consecutive year, the performance of the nation's leading carriers improved, according to the 22nd annual national Airline Quality Rating, a joint research project funded as part of faculty research activities at Wichita State University and Purdue University.
It was the best overall score in the 22 years researchers have tracked the performance of airlines.
For the second consecutive year, AirTran, Hawaiian and JetBlue were the three best performing airlines.
Released during a news conference at the National Press Club today (Monday, April 2), the rankings show that of the 15 carriers rated for performance in both 2010 and 2011, 10 airlines improved, four airlines declined, and one airline remained the same for 2011.
The industry improved in all four major elements of the AQR: on-time performance, baggage handling, involuntary denied boardings and customer complaints.
The better score reflects airline industry efforts to be better in a capacity-limited air travel system, according to Dean Headley, associate professor of marketing at the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University.
"As the system adjusts to increasing demand for air travel with a limited capacity of seats available, operations must be carefully handled for things to go as planned for travelers,” said Headley.
“During 2011, the industry lowered the involuntary denied boarding rate by nearly 30 percent, suggesting that most airlines are getting it together. Still, more than a third of the customer complaints for 2011 were for flight problems, such as unplanned schedule changes, delays and cancellations,” said Headley.
"When you look at the past 12 years, you find that the airline industry performs most efficiently when the system isn't stressed by high passenger volume and high numbers of airplanes in the air. Every time there are more planes in the sky and more people flying, airline performance suffers," said Headley.
The challenge is whether airline performance quality improvements can be maintained as more people choose to fly. Or does the infrastructure and air traffic control technology limit what the airlines can do?
“Further airline consolidation will continue to reduce the number of air carriers ranked in the AQR,” said Brent Bowen, professor and head of the Department of Aviation Technology at Purdue University.
“Past AQR data suggest that the combining of two large air carrier operations often results in subsequent decreases in AQR rankings,” said Bowen. “We will be carefully watching to see if two highly rated carriers, such as No. 1 AirTran and No. 5 Southwest, will reverse this trend.”
An electronic version of the full report, with details on each airline, is available at http://airlinequalityrating.com.
Inside this year's rating
Below is the 2012 numerical ranking of the nation's leading 15 airlines, according to the Airline Quality Rating, with the 2011 ranking in parentheses:
1. AirTran (1)
2. Hawaiian (2)
3. JetBlue (3)
4. Frontier (9)
5. Alaska (4)
6. Delta (7)
7. Southwest (5)
8. US Airways (6)
9. SkyWest (10)
10. American (11)
11. Continental (8)
12. United (12)
13. Atlantic Southeast (15)
14. Mesa (13)
15. American Eagle (16)
The airline ranking includes only those airlines that have at least 1 percent of total domestic passenger revenues. This year’s ranking reflects the deletion of Comair.
The rankings changed most noticeably for Frontier Airlines (from 9 up to 4) for 2011. AirTran continued in the No. 1 ranked spot. Hawaiian (2) and JetBlue (3) both maintained their top tier positions for 2011.
Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance (92.8 percent) for 2011, and JetBlue had the worst (73.3 percent). Seven airlines improved their on-time arrival performance in 2011.
Seven of the 15 airlines rated had an on-time arrival percentage of more than 80 percent. On-time for 2011 by the industry was 80 percent compared to 79.8 percent in 2010.
JetBlue had the lowest involuntary denied boardings rate at 0.01 per 10,000 passengers. Mesa had the highest involuntary denied boardings rate at 2.27 per 10,000 passengers.
Overall, 10 airlines improved their denied boardings rate in 2011. American Eagle recorded the largest improvement, and Atlantic Southeast had the largest decline. JetBlue and Hawaiian are clearly the industry leaders in avoiding denied boarding incidents. Industry performance was better in 2011 (0.78 per 10,000 passengers) than it was in 2010 (1.08). Denied boardings was the most consistent area of performance improvement in 2011.
AirTran had the best baggage handling rate (1.63 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers) of all airlines, and American Eagle had the worst baggage handling rate (7.32 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers) of all the airlines.
Seven of 15 airlines improved their mishandled baggage performance for the year. The rate for the industry decreased from 3.49 per 1,000 passengers in 2010 to 3.35 in 2011.
Southwest again had the lowest consumer complaint rate (0.32 per 100,000 passengers) of all airlines. United had the highest consumer complaint rate (2.21 per 100,000 passengers) of all airlines rated.
Customer complaints per 100,000 passengers decreased from 1.22 in 2010 to 1.19 in 2011. The majority of complaints were for flight problems (34.9 percent), baggage (14.3 percent), customer service (12.1 percent) and reservations, ticketing and boarding (11.2 percent).
More about Airline Quality Rating
As the nation's most comprehensive study of airline performance and quality, the Airline Quality Rating sets the industry standard, providing consumers and industry watchers a means to compare quality among airlines using objective performance-based data.
No other study in the country is based on such performance measures as the AQR. Criteria included in the report are screened to meet two basic elements: They must be readily obtainable from published data sources for each airline, and they must be important to consumers regarding airline quality. The resulting criteria include areas such as baggage handling, customer complaints, denied boardings and on-time arrivals.
For a look at what 21 years of the Airline Quality Rating tells us, go to http://downloads.aqr.aero/reports/aqr20years.pdf.
Reports from consumers to the AQR researchers have become increasingly popular during the past several years, said Bowen and Headley. The co-authors invite the flying public to participate in the annual Survey of Frequent Flyers at http://www.wichita.edu/aqrconsumersurvey.
Media unable to attend the news conference in Washington, D.C., may receive a copy of the AQR news release on the day of the news conference (April 2) by contacting the following:
An electronic version of the full report will be available after 9:30 a.m. (EDT) Monday, April 2, at http://airlinequalityrating.com. Click on the "press release" tab to access the ratings directly.
Taped comments by Dean Headley will be available via the WSU Radio Newsline at http://www.wichita.edu/newsline beginning at 9:30 a.m. (EDT) Monday, April 2.
Headley will be available for interviews after Monday's news conference. To reach Headley, call the Hilton Garden Inn in Washington, D.C., at (202) 783-7800 and ask for the room of Dean Headley.
Brent Bowen may be contacted at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., by calling