For the second year in a row, low-cost carrier AirTran Airways did the best job getting passengers to their destinations with the least hassle, private researchers who have analyzed federal data on airline performance said Monday.
Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue Airways also repeated their performance from last year, ranking second and third, respectively. Regional carrier American Eagle was last among the nation’s 15 largest airlines included in the annual report.
The rankings are based on data airlines supply the Department of Transportation regarding lost bags, delayed flights, and bumpings from full planes, and consumer complaints made to the department.
Overall, the report shows flying is getting better even through passengers grappling with fare increases, canceled routes and a seemingly endless parade of new fees may not feel that way, said Dean Headley, a business professor at Wichita State University who has co-written the annual report for 22 years.
Airlines are slowly, steadily recovering from their meltdown five years ago, when, under the strain of near-record consumer travel demand, their performance tanked, he said. Industry performance for all four measurements was slightly better in 2011 compared with 2010.
In judging quality of performance, low-cost carriers that mainly fly between large hubs tend to fare the best, Headley said. The large airlines that have been around since before airline deregulation in the early 1980s tend to fall in the middle. Regional airlines, which often fly smaller planes and are more susceptible to weather delays, generally pull up the rear.
Airline performance last year was likely helped by a mild winter in much of the country despite an “October surprise” snowstorm that snarled the Northeast, he said.
The overall rankings in order were: AirTran, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Frontier Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, US Airways, SkyWest Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, United Airlines, Atlantic Southeast Airlines, Mesa Airlines, and American Eagle.
AirTran was acquired by the Southwest Airlines Co. last year.
Hawaiian did the best job of arriving on time with an average of 92.8 percent, while JetBlue had the worst on-time performance, 73.3 percent. A flight is considered on time if it arrives within 15 minutes of when it was originally due.
Mesa had the highest rate of passengers with tickets who were denied boarding, at 2.27 per 10,000 passengers. Such “bumpings” are usually due to overbooking. JetBlue had the lowest rate of bumped passengers, 0.01 per 10,000 passengers.
AirTran had the best baggage handling rate, 1.63 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. American Eagle had the worst baggage handling rate, 7.32 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. That was more than double the industry rate of 3.35.
Southwest once again had the lowest consumer complaint rate, 0.32 complaints per 100,000 passengers; United had the highest consumer complaint rate at 2.21.
Headley attributed United’s high complaint rate to rough patches in the airline’s merger with Continental. The airlines, which merged their reservation operations last month, now operate under the United name.