Friday, April 25, 2014
America's Best Airlines (Full List)
Virgin America is the highest-quality major airline in the United States for the second year running, according to the 2014 Airline Quality Rating report, an annual study of airline performance. The privately owned airline –founded by billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson– has only been operating in the U.S. since 2007, and has come out on top both times it has been included in the AQR’s analysis.
“Virgin has great policies, they’re pretty much on time… they’re a great system,” says Dr. Dean Headley, one of the study’s co-authors. “But I suspect as they grow and and their system becomes more complex, they’ll face more challenges.
” The Airline Quality Rating report is the premier statistical study of major airline performance in the United States, and has been conducted annually since 1991. It’s authored by Dr. Dean Headley, a professor at Wichita State University, and Dr. Brent Bowen, a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The study looks at data that the airlines are mandated by law to report to the U.S. Department of Transportation over the last twelve months, focusing on four criteria: On-time arrivals, denied boardings, mishandled bags, and customer complaints.
The final overall ranking is calculated as a weighted average of all four scores. This year’s top-ranking airline Virgin America posts strong numbers in most of the AQR’s criteria: The airline had 82.1% of all flights arrive on time in 2013, compared to the industry average of 78.4%; it mishandled 0.97 bags per 1,000 passengers, well below the average of 3.21; and it denied boarding to just 0.04 ticketed passengers per 10,000, significantly below the average of 0.89. Only the airline’s number of customer complaints –1.28 per 100,000 passengers– came in slightly high, just above the industry average of 1.13 per 100,000. But full-price and premium airlines like Virgin tend to attract more complaints than low-cost economy carriers, so Virgin might have taken a hit on customer complaints because its passengers expect more than those flying other airlines. The second-ranked airline in terms of overall quality was low-cost airline Jet Blue, which posted better than average performance in terms of denied boardings and customer complaints. Hawaiian Airlines came in third place, followed by Delta Air Lines DAL -1.41% and Alaska Airlines. The last place finisher, fifteenth-ranked American Eagle, came in well below average in all four measured criteria; 72.1% on-time arrivals, 1.14 denied boardings per 10,000 passengers, 5.90 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers, and 1.7 customer complaints per 100,000 passengers. Hawaiian Airlines boasted the best on-time performance of all the airlines in the report, at 93.3%; American Eagle had the worst, at 72.1%. Jet Blue had the least number of denied boardings, with just 0.01 per 10,000 passengers; SkyWest SKYW -0.63% had the most, with 2.55 per 10,000. Virgin America had the fewest mishandled bags, with 0.97 per 1,000 passengers; American Eagle had the most, with 5.90 per 1,000. And SouthWest Airlines led the pack in terms of fewest customer complaints, just 0.34 per 100,000 passengers, while Frontier Airlines had the most, 3.09 per 100,000. Industry-wide, the domestic airlines improved their performance year over year in two of the four analyzed categories: The number of denied boardings fell from .97 to .89 per 10,000 passengers, and customer complaints dropped from 1.43 to 1.13 per 100,000 passengers. Nine of 15 airlines improved their customer complaint rates for 2013. The most complaints filed to the U.S. Department of Transportation were regarding flight delay, cancellation and scheduling problems (35.9%), followed by customer service issues (14.4%), lost, damaged or delayed baggage (14.2%), and mistakes with reservations, ticketing and boarding (12.8%). “Either consolidation didn’t have as huge an impact on customers as we thought it would,” says Headley, “Or people just gave up and said, ‘It’s going to be messy, live with it.’ They may have turned into more cynical consumers.” Meanwhile, other industry averages have lost altitude from last year: The number of on-time arrivals fell 3.4% to 78.4%, and the airlines mishandled more bags, rising from 3.07 to 3.21 per 1,000 passengers. Overall the airlines have improved their quality significantly since the industry posted its worst-ever year in the AQR back in 2007. “Airlines, on the whole, do a pretty good job with an extremely complex system,” says Headley. “But it all boils down to what happened on your flight today.”