2011 Airline Quality Ratings – AirTran at number one

The 2011 Airline Quality Ratings (AQR) were just released, and AirTran topped the list at number one. The Atlanta based air line got top marks in the study that accounts for on time arrivals, mishandled baggage, complaints, and other metrics. The study only includes airlines in the United States and provides interesting statistics about the overall quality of domestic air travel.

The main form of complaint involved flight problems, followed by baggage. While overall complaints went up about 30% from 2009 to 2010, overall quality rating also went up marginally. This could be due to the communication channel widening to include new forms of customer feedback. AirTran handled baggage the best with only 1.63 bags mishandled per 1000 passengers. American Eagle was at the other end of the spectrum with 7.15 bags mishandled per 1000 passengers. Of all the airlines listed, Hawaiian Airlines topped the list in on time arrival. Over 92% of their flights landed on time. The full report can be viewed here.

AQR Rankings – Domestic Airlines
16. American Eagle
15. Atlantic Southeast
14. Comair
13. Mesa Air
12. United
11. American Airlines
10. Skywest9. Frontier
8. Continental
7. Delta
6. U.S. Airways
5. Southwest
4. Alaska
3. Jet Blue
2. Hawaiian
1. AirTran

flickr image via Bob B. Brown

An analysis of the Airline Quality Report

The annual Airline Quality Report (AQR) was published today by Dr. Dean Headley out of Wichita State University. Big deal, you say, airlines continue to suck. You’ve got that right. Distill the 60 page document down to its roots and you’ll find that the industry scored its worst ranks of all time in the history of the twenty year study.

Overall quality of an airline was taken as a weighted average across factors of the airline being:

  • On Time
  • Denied Boardings (overbookings)
  • Mishandled Baggage and
  • Customer Complaints

The lower a carrier scores, the worse its performance. Let’s take a look at the data:

  • Southwest Airlines had the best on-time performance with 82.4% of flights on time, while Atlantic Southeast, Comair, American and American Eagle had the worst records at 66.9%, 67.3% and 67.4% (tied) respectively.
  • Atlantic Southeast, Comair and Skywest had the most denied boardings at 5.43, 3.32 and 2.73 passengers bumped per 10,000 respectively, while jetBlue, Airtran and United had the best at 0.04, 0.21 and 0.40.
  • Skywest, and American Eagle lost the most bags, at 17.95 and 17.38 bags lost per 1,000 passengers each. Conversely, AirTran and Northwest lost only 3.63 and 5.26 bags per.
  • 2.07 out of 1000 passengers complained about United Airlines, while only 0.19 in 1000 complained about Mesa.
  • Balanced, AirTran had the best performance, while Atlantic Southeast had the worst.

Ranked, the airlines stacked up as follows

  1. Airtran
  2. jetBlue
  3. Southwest
  4. Northwest
  5. Frontier
  6. Continental
  7. Alaska
  8. United
  9. American
  10. Delta
  11. US Airways
  12. Mesa
  13. SkyWest
  14. Comair
  15. American Eagle
  16. Atlantic Southeast

Other interesting things to consider

  • The top three airlines are all Low Cost Carriers (LCCs). The best legacy carriers were Northwest, Continental and Alaska.
  • Airtran, American Eagle, Atlantic Southeast and Mesa actually improved from 2006 to 2007. It’s just that the other airlines did so poorly that it dragged the average down. Atlantic Southeast, for example, was already poorly ranked, it was just less poorly ranked this year.
  • It’s important to consider weather and hubs into the equation. Hawaiian Airlines, for example, received excellent results last year, but that’s partially because they fly in near-perfect weather and everyone is always happy when they are on vacation in Hawaii (so they won’t complain). Compare that to American and American Eagle, both of whom have hubs in Chicago. On-time rankings were considerably worse for New York based carriers
  • 17.95 bags per 1000 may seem bad, but that’s really only 1.795%

So what does this tell us overall? Well, as we concluded earlier, not much. You have to consider that there is some noise in the data that comes from increased media coverage and oversight on the airline industry. Now that you know that there is a survey, you’re going to have a higher chance of complaining on your next flight, right?

The data will crawl around from good to bad to worse all over the place and we can analyze it until we turn blue. What’s important to take from this data is that there aren’t any large anomalies. Contrary to what you’ve been thinking, Delta employees haven’t completely given up on us and complaints have not skyrocketed. jetBlue did not lose an outrageous number of bags last summer for no reason.

At the very least, we can thus find solace in this normalcy.