Even The Best Airlines In The U.S. Are Declining In Performance, New Study Claims

The airline industry had a rough year in 2014. According to the 2015 annual Airline Quality Rating report that was just released, performance of airlines in the United States declined in all four of the areas that the reports tracked from the previous year. The study — a joint project of Wichita State and the Arizona campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University — found that in 2014, fewer planes arrived on time, more luggage was lost, more flights were overbooked, and more customers complained.

These alleged declines follow four consecutive years of improvement and a record-best year in 2013. The rate of on-time arrivals dropped from 78.4 percent to 76.2 percent — only Frontier Airlines and JetBlue Airways improved on timeliness. Customer complaints rose by 22 percent. In the category of overbooking, the airline quality report found that the percentage of passengers getting bumped from their flight rose by 3 percent. As for baggage, the rate of luggage that was mishandled, lost, or stolen jumped by 17 percent.

According to the report, only three U.S. airlines improved on performance in 2014, compared to eight airlines that declined in performance. One airline held steady. However, not all airlines fared entirely poorly in the report. Virgin America was named the top U.S. airline for the third year in a row, followed by Hawaiian Airlines, and then Delta. JetBlue ranked fourth and Alaska Airlines snagged fifth place. Virgin America, Hawaiian Airlines, and Alaska Airlines were the three airlines that showed improvements in performance in 2014.


Here’s rundown of how all 12 of the airlines reviewed in the AQR report ranked:

  1. Virgin America
  2. Hawaiian
  3. Delta
  4. JetBlue
  5. Alaska
  6. Southwest (includes AirTran)
  7. American (includes US Airways)
  8. Frontier
  9. United
  10. SkyWest
  11. ExpressJet
  12. Envoy/American Eagle
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So what’s causing airlines’ drop off in performance? The declines can be attributed to two different factors, according to the researchers. One of the factors is the consolidation of airlines through mergers, which reduces competition among airlines. The mergers also mean that the same number of people are being put onto fewer planes, which leads to less comfortable traveling conditions, International Business Times reported. Secondly, airline performance ratings tend to be higher when travel demand is lower and when airplanes are less crowded. But lately, travel demands have risen, causing the average plane to be 80 percent full and also explaining the upshot in overbooking.

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The researchers hope that the fallen ratings will catch airlines’ eyes and hopefully prompt improved services. According to the Associated Press, airlines are already ordering new planes and making investments to provide better service to customers. But one big caveat to that: Most of the improvements will be targeted at first-class and business-class passengers. So, sorry coach passengers, looks like you might be stuck complaining.

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