Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines, two airlines that serve Wichita’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, improved their overall ranking in the annual Airline Quality Rating report – but their actual performance, like that of the industry as a whole, saw some slippage in 2014.
The 2015 report co-authored by Wichita State University associate professor Dean Headley was released at a news conference Monday in Washington, D.C. It measured the quality of service provided by 12 airlines in 2014.
Delta and Southwest were among four airlines – Virgin America and Hawaiian Airlines were the others – that held on to their rankings or moved up on the scale between 2013 and 2014.
Delta’s performance pushed its overall ranking up to No. 3 from No. 4 in 2014. Southwest, which was ranked No. 8 last year, moved up to No. 6. Virgin received a No. 1 ranking for a third consecutive year, while Hawaiian moved up from No. 3 in the 2014 report.
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The ratings report, in its 25th year, grades airlines – and the industry – on four performance measures: on-time arrivals, denied boardings, mishandled baggage and customer service. The report derives its data from the federal Department of Transportation. The 2015 report is based on data collected in 2014.
The 2015 report showed that the airlines’ overall performance slipped last year. The report said that between 2013 and 2014, the airline industry’s rate of customer complaints increased 22 percent and the rate of mishandled baggage increased 13 percent. Also during that period, the industry’s rate of denied boardings – overbooked flights – edged from 0.89 denied boardings per 10,000 passengers in 2013 to 0.92 in 2014. And the industry’s on-time arrival percentage decreased 2.2 percent year over year.
That meant that Delta, for example, improved its overall ranking even though it improved year over year in only one of four measures, denied boardings. In the three other measures, it saw declines, the report said.
Headley and his co-author, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor Brent Bowen, said airline mergers in recent years and operating at higher capacity appear to affect performance.
“When you look at the past 14 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,” Headley said in a statement. “With continued capacity limits and consolidation, one would hope that a less congested system would perform better. We did not see that in 2014.”
In the past few years, Southwest Airlines has bought AirTran Airways, American Airlines and U.S. Airways has merged, Delta Air Lines has merged with Northwest Airlines, and Continental Airlines has merged with United Airlines.
The four other airlines serving Eisenhower Airport – American, United and regional carriers SkyWest and Express Jet – all ranked in the bottom half of this year’s quality report rankings.
Headley said the report does not rate Allegiant Airlines and four other regional carriers serving Eisenhower – Endeavor Airlines, Mesa Airlines, Republic Airways and Trans States Airlines – because they don’t meet the transportation department’s threshold of having a minimum of 1 percent of the nation’s total passenger revenue volume. Those airlines that meet the threshold are required by the transportation department to report performance data used in the report, he said.
Headley said he wasn’t sure what to expect next year. Until the 2015 report, the industry had been improving slowly in the performance measures since 2007.
“It’s hard to predict that much into the future, but it’s not … going in the right direction,” he said.
How they rate
The 2015 Airline Qualtity Rating report measures the nation’s 12 largest airlines for on-time arrivals, denied boardings, mishandled baggage and customer service. Delta Air Lines was the only airline serving Wichita’s Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport to make the top five performing airlines.
1. Virgin America
12. Envoy/American Eagle