If you feel like airline service is slipping, that’s because it is. In fact, it has slipped back to levels not seen since the recession, according to a new “Airline Quality Rating” report out this week. The rating considers four factors most important to travelers: on-time performance, involuntary bumping, mishandled baggage and complaints. Only Virgin America, Alaska and Hawaiian upped their game last year, according to the study, while all other major airlines offered worse service.
University professors Brent Bowen (Embry-Riddle) and Dean Headley (Wichita State) have conducted the research using Department of Transportation data for 25 years, and found that performance levels have sunk back to where they were in 2009, during the Great Recession.
“The Airline Quality Rating industry score for 2014 shows an industry that declined in overall performance quality over the previous year. As an industry, performance in 2014 was worse than the previous four years,” the authors say. “Of the 11,364 complaints registered with DOT regarding all U.S. domestic carriers, 62.7% were for either flight problems, customer service problems, or baggage problems.” Overall, complaints skyrocketed 22% in 2014.
So which airline attracted the most complaints? To adjust for airline size, the authors published a rate of complaints per 100,000 passengers. The industry average was 1.38 for 2014. At the “top” of the list is Frontier and United. Alaska and Southwest attracted the fewest complaints. These stats aren’t a fluke: Alaska also had the fewest complaints per 100,000 in 2013, while Frontier and United had the most last year, too.
The Most Complaints per 100,000 Passengers
- Frontier 3.91
- United 2.71
- American 2.12
- Envoy 1.59
- JetBlue 1.17
- Virgin America 1.14
- ExpressJet 1.01
- Hawaiian 0.89
- SkyWest 0.84
- Delta 0.72
- Southwest 0.53
- Alaska 0.42
Frontier didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I’m not surprised by the latest results,” said consumer travel advocate Chris Elliot, who operates Elliot.org. “Airline passengers are fond of referring to the industry’s customer service record as a race to the bottom. These numbers leave little doubt that the race is far from over.”
The results also reveal a backslide from improvements that airlines had made since the recession, Elliot said.
“These numbers suggest that the uptick in customer service was only temporary,” Elliot said. “The study is a big disappointment, both for airline passengers, and also for me personally. I had really hoped the industry had begun to turn a corner.”
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