Annual airline rating study shows big improvements in industry

April 9, 2019

HARLINGEN — It was a good day for Delta, and an even better one for air travelers.

Delta Air Lines was named No. 1 in a long-running annual customer satisfaction survey called the Airline Quality Rating, moving up from second spot last year. The survey is based on mishandled baggage, consumer complaints, on-time performance and involuntary denied boardings.

The ratings, released yesterday, mark the 29 th year Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University have compiled the rankings.

Second in the 2019 rankings was JetBlue and third was Southwest, followed by Alaska, Hawaiian, United, Spirit, American and Frontier.

“I think the overall results of the 2019 AQR bring good news for everyone looking to travel today,” said Jose Mulet, director of air service and business development at Valley International Airport.

“In my opinion, it is amazing that with all the challenges the airline industry faces each day — a saturated ATC (air traffic control) system, weather, labor issues, regulations, safety, equipment issues, etc. — the airlines managed to improve in the overall service they provided over the previous year’s score.”

Mulet says the real story is that the overall airline rating score saw U.S. airlines post their best scores in the rankings’ 29-year history. In addition to Delta, Southwest, United, American, Sun Country and Frontier provide passenger service at Valley International.

Key findings in the rankings show that three of the four AQR factors tracked — involuntary denied boardings, mishandled bags and customer complaints — improved industry-wide in 2018. On-time performance, which is the most heavily weighted part of the rankings, did slip in 2018.

The report showed that 2018 had the lowest rate of bumped passengers, the lowest rate of mishandled baggage and the lowest rate of customer complaints industry-wide since the AQR started in 1991.

Delta was the only airline to improve in all four categories. Six of the airlines rated performed better in 2018 versus their 2017 AQR scores. Those carriers were Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit and United. Airlines whose scores declined in 2018 were Alaska, American and Frontier.

“These results are very needed by the traveling public, given all the recent reports of airlines losing the confidence of key consumers,” said Brent Bowen, a study co-author and professor of aeronautical science at Embry-Riddle’s Prescott campus.

Harlingen is the only Valley airport where Delta provides passenger flights, where its ground-handling operations are contracted out to SkyWest. Mulet says SkyWest deserves some credit for Delta’s high scores.

“All of us at VIA are proud of the SkyWest team in Harlingen,” he said. “They handle flights for United Airlines and Delta Air Lines. The team won station of the month for Delta Air Lines for February 2019.”

Involuntary denied boardings

Delta was the industry leader in avoiding involuntary denied boarding incidents in 2018 with a rate of 0.00 per 10,000 passengers. Hawaiian, JetBlue and United followed with rates of 0.01 involuntary denied boardings per 10,000 passengers. Frontier had the highest involuntary denied boarding rate with 0.63 per 10,000 passengers.

Eight airlines improved their denied boardings rate in 2018. Frontier had the largest increase in the rate of denied boardings. The industry performance is the lowest rate of involuntary denied boardings since the AQR started in 1991.

Baggage handling

Spirit had the best baggage handling rate (1.76 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers) of all airlines, and American had the worst baggage handling rate (3.83) mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers.

The industry rate decreased from 2.46 per 1,000 passengers in 2017 to 2.43 in 2018.

The industry performance is the lowest rate of mishandled baggage since the AQR started in 1991.

Consumer complaints

Southwest had the lowest consumer complaint rate (0.36 per 100,000 passengers) of all airlines. Frontier had the highest consumer complaint rate (4.02 per 100,000 passengers).

Customer complaints per 100,000 passengers decreased from 1.35 in 2017 to 1.04 in 2018. The majority of complaints (72 percent) to the Department of Transportation were for flight problems (36.9 percent), baggage (13.0 percent), customer service (12.1 percent), and reservations, ticketing and boarding (10.1 percent).

The volume of complaints received by the U.S. Department of Transportation was down by 23 percent in 2018 compared to 2017.

Source: Wichita State/Embry-Riddle