AirTran tops quality rankings developed by Wichita State, Purdue

For the second year in a row, AirTran Airways, Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue were the nation’s top-performing airlines, according to the 22nd annual Airline Quality Rating report released Monday.

American Eagle turned in the overall worst performance, with Mesa and Atlantic Southeast finishing near the bottom as well.

Frontier Airlines showed the most improvement last year, moving from ninth on the list to fourth.

In the report, the nation’s top 15 carriers were rated in four areas: on-time performance, baggage handling, involuntary denied boardings and customer complaints.

Airlines’ performance improved for the fourth consecutive year, according to the report, co-authored by Dean Headley, Wichita State University associate professor of marketing.

The report is funded as part of faculty research efforts at WSU and Purdue University.

Last year’s performance was the best overall score in the 22 years of the report’s history, Headley said.

Of the airlines ranked, 10 carriers improved last year over the year before, four airlines declined, and one remained the same.

The airlines improved in all four areas of the rankings.

Last year, the involuntary denied boardings rate declined by almost 30 percent, the report said.

That suggests that “most airlines are getting it together,” Headley said in a statement. Still, more than a third of the customer complaints last year were for flight problems, such as unplanned schedule changes, delays and cancellations.

The airline industry performs most efficiently when the system isn’t stressed by high passenger volumes and high numbers of airplanes in the air, Headley said.

“Every time there are more planes in the sky and more people flying, airline performance suffers,” Headley said.

The challenge is whether performance quality improvements can be maintained as more people fly.

“Or does the infrastructure and air traffic control technology limit what the airlines can do?” he said.