America’s Meanest Airlines

2011′s Airline Quality Report came out this month, which means that it’s time to distill out the industry leaders in a variety of categories, from on-time departures to lost bags to general happiness among passengers. Reporting on the best of the best is only half as fun as vilifying the worst though, so Yahoo and US News took the liberty of sorting out the worst performers in each category and hanging their decapitated bodies in the public square for everyone to shame. Among the losers this year:

Meanest major carrier: United Airlines
Meanest regional carrier: American Eagle
Most complained about airline: Delta Air Lines
Most likely to be unsafe: Jetblue
Most likely to overcharge for bags: Delta / US Airways / Continental
Most likely to bump you: American Eagle
Most likely to be late: Comair
Most likely to mishandle your bag: American Eagle

Daunting stuff, right? Maybe. Bear in mind, that the AQR samples a limited data set over a limited market, and that the term “worst” doesn’t necessarily mean that service is bad. American Eagle, for example, mishandles 7.15 bags for every thousand that go through its hands. The best carrier? Air Tran at 1.63 per thousand. That’s 1 drop in the bucket versus 1.0002 drops in the bucket.

Our suggestion? If you really want to figure out why each airline performed the worst in its own category then download the AQR yourself and flip through the data. It’s the only way you can get an accurate gauge of quality.