Report: Airline quality best in years, but Sky Harbor carriers lag

Baggage handling is one of the four areas looked at in the airline quality report, which said that incidents of mishandled baggage fell from 3.24 per 1,000 passengers in 2015 to 2.70 in 2016, one of several service improvements. (Photo by Bonnie Henderson/Creative Commons)

Wichita State University professor Dean Headley, left, and Brent Bowen, dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, said airline performance is the best it’s been in the 27 years they have been studying it. (Photo by Tyler Fingert/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Airlines performed better last year than they had for almost the last three decades, according to an annual report on airline quality released Monday.

The 2017 Airline Quality Rating report, an annual report by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott and Wichita State University, showed slight increases across the board in performance measures: mishandled baggage, consumer complaints, on-time performance and involuntary denied boardings.

The report’s authors said Monday that the scores for the industry were the highest they have seen in 27 years of doing the study.

“The airlines as a whole have done better in the four major categories and because they’re doing slightly better it has taken the score up to its highest position over time,” said Brent Bowen, dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

“Everyone wants to get there on time and they want to get there with their bag,” Bowen said. “It’s good news for travelers because you have the potential to have a more satisfying flight.”

Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines finished first and second, respectively, in the rankings, while Virgin America slipped to third after holding the No. 1 spot for four years.

Meanwhile, the two biggest carriers at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, did not perform as well among the 12 carriers studied.

Southwest remained in sixth place, the same spot as last year, but came in first in the customer satisfaction ranking. American finished in ninth place, up one spot from last year’s overall ranking, but finished 10th this year for customer satisfaction, an area the airline says it is working to improve.

-Cronkite News video by Tyler Fingert

“In November, we posted our best operating month since the merger with US Airways, and that performance has continued in to 2017, clear evidence we are getting better every day, and are on the right trajectory,” said American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein in an emailed statement Monday.

“Customer service will be an area of improvement in 2017, as we have launched a new training program for our front-line team members,” his statement said.

Bowen said the study looks at “a broad category of airline performance that is important” to passengers.

The report found that mishandled baggage fell from 3.24 incidents per 1,000 passengers in 2015 to 2.70 in 2016, while on-time performance rose from 79.9 percent to 81.4 percent.

The number of passengers who were denied boarding fell from 0.76 per 10,000 passengers in 2015 to 0.62 per 10,000 passengers last year.

And consumer complaints across the industry declined to 1.52 per 100,000 passengers last year, down from 1.90 in 2015.

Nine of the 12 airlines studied improved in the on-time performance, baggage handling and customer complaint categories, while seven of the 12 airlines improved in all four categories.

While customer service complaints overall decreased slightly last year, there have been better years, said Dean Headley, a marketing professor at Wichita State University and co-author of the report, who added that there is much area for improvement.

“Bags and bumpings are the best they have ever been, then we look at customer complaints and that’s not the case there,” Headley said.

“It is certainly not the best or worst it has ever been but at least it is going in the right direction.”