US airlines improved operational performance in 2016

Jon Howard
April 12, 2017

The low-priced carrier was the most improved USA airline in 2016, according to the 27th Airline Quality Rating study, which ranks the 12 largest air carriers based upon on-time performance, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled bags and customer complaints.

In 2016, the airline industry mishandled baggage rate decreased from 3.24 per 1,000 passengers in 2015 to 2.70 per 1,000 passengers.

Nine airlines, including Frontier, earned a higher numerical quality rating in 2016 than in 2015.

And consumer complaints across the industry declined to 1.52 per 100,000 passengers past year, down from 1.90 in 2015.

Along with the industrywide analysis, the report also individually ranked the 12 USA airlines that carried at least 1% of domestic passenger traffic in 2016.

At the bottom of the ranking in the No. 11 and No. 12 spots are ultra low-priced carriers Spirit and Frontier.

An annual report released today shows that airlines are substantially improving the service provided to passengers in the US.

As the nation's longest-running study of airline performance quality, the Airline Quality Rating ( sets the industry standard, providing consumers and industry watchers with a means to compare performance quality among airlines using objective performance-based data.

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Dean Headley is a Wichita State University Professor and co-author of the study.

The findings drew a quick response from the trade group Airlines for America (A4A), which touted the improvements.

The on-time arrival percentage also improved by 1.5 per cent in 2016.

"Beginning last spring, Spirit initiated a number of programs that have led to major improvements in on-time performance and a 64 percent reduction in complaints year over year", Berry said. The majority of complaints (73.5 percent) to the DOT were for flight problems (41.4 percent), baggage (12.0 percent), customer service (10.5 percent), and reservations, ticketing and boarding (9.6 percent).

"It will be interesting to see how the Virgin America-Alaska merger will pan out moving forward", Bowen said.

"Seven of these 12 airlines got better in all four categories, so that's good".

Not only does the report hold airlines to the fire but it can help consumers make more informed decisions when planning their next trip. Overall, the industry had 0.62 denied boardings per 10,000 passengers in 2016, compared to 0.76 in 2015- the best rate since the AQR started in 1991.

Still, Spirit's consumer complaint rate is higher than the industry average of 1.52 per 100,000 passengers, according to the study. Airlines boast when they win.

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