Airline study finds some improvement, but complaints increase


It may cost more to fly these days, but some aspects of customer service are getting better. That's the contention by a recent study funded in part by Purdue University.

Purdue and Wichita State Universities participate in the Airline Quality Rating, which found that on-time performance and baggage handling improved, but involuntary denied boardings and customer complaint rates were higher in 2012.

See the rankings here.

At the top of the rankings is Virgin America, followed by JetBlue and AirTran.

According to the latest Airline Quality Rating, a 23-year-old survey on the airline industry, performance remained at peak levels in 2012.

2012 Rankings (with previous ranking in parantheses)

1. Virgin America (new to the ranking this year)
2. JetBlue (3)
3. AirTran (1)
4. Delta (6)
5. Hawaiian (2)
6. Alaska (5)
7. Frontier (4)
8. Southwest (7)
9. US Airways (8)
10. American (10)
11. American Eagle (15)
12. SkyWest (9)
13. ExpressJet (not rated in 2011)
14. United (12)

Of the 14 carriers studied, seven airlines showed improvement over 2011, five declined and two are new to the list.

Dean Headley, associate professor of marketing at the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State, says airlines are making headway as demand increases but capacity remains limited.

"During 2012 the industry improved the mishandled baggage rate by 8 percent, suggesting that most airlines are working hard to accommodate customers. Still, nearly a third of the customer complaints for 2012 were for flight problems, such as unplanned schedule changes, delays and cancellations," Headley said. "When you look at the past 13 years, you find that the airline industry performs most efficiently when the system isn't stressed by high passenger volume and high number of airplanes in the air. Every time there are more planes in the sky and more people flying, airline performance suffers."

See the rankings here.

As more people choose to fly, it remains to be seen if improvements in airline performance can be maintained - or if infrastructure and air traffic control technology limits what airlines can do, the study said.