Virgin America was ranked the best performing airline last year while United Airlines was the worst, according to the 23rd annual Airline Quality Rating of the nation’s top airlines, released on Monday.
Virgin America, new to this year’s ranking, was followed by JetBlue and AirTran Airways as the best-performing airlines, the rating said.
SkyWest and ExpressJet ranked just above United as the nation’s worst-performing airlines.
The annual rankings are co-authored by Wichita State University associate professor of marketing Dean Headley and Purdue University professor Brent Bowen.
Airlines are rated on on-time performance, denied boardings, mishandled baggage and consumer complaints from data obtained from the Department of Transportation.
Performance by the airlines during 2012 was the second highest in 23 years of ratings.
Performance was nearly identical last year to 2011, which was the best year for airline performance.
Seven of the 14 airlines improved their ratings last year, while five declined. Two airlines, Virgin America and ExpressJet, were new to the ratings.
American Eagle Airlines improved the most, moving from 15th place to 11th.
As a whole, the industry improved in on-time performance and baggage handling while involuntary denied boardings and customer complaints rose.
The airlines have made commendable efforts to serve customers in an air travel system limited by capacity, Headley said.
Airlines have taken the number of seats available out of the system and flights are fuller.
As the system adjusts to limited capacity, airline operations must be carefully handled for things to go as planned for travelers, Headley said.
Airlines perform most efficiently when the system isn’t stressed by high passenger volumes, he said.
The challenge will be to see whether airline performance quality can be maintained as more people choose to fly.
On-time arrivals increased from 80 percent in 2011 to 82 percent last year while the number of mishandled bags fell from 3.35 bags per 1,000 passengers to 3.07 per 1,000 passengers.
At the same time, the number of involuntary denied boardings rose from 0.78 per 10,000 passengers in 2011 to 0.97 per 10,000 passengers last year. Customer complaints rose from 1.19 per 100,000 customers in 2011 to 1.43 per 100,000 customers in 2012.