Airline performance improves; AirTran is new No. 1 in Airline Quality Rating
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According to the 21st annual national Airline Quality Rating (AQR), AirTran is the best-performing airline of 2010. For the industry, it was the third best overall score in the 20 years researchers have tracked the performance of airlines.
The rating is conducted annually by researchers Dean Headley of Wichita State University and Brent Bowen of Purdue University. According to the Airline Quality Rating for 2010, AirTran is first, followed by Hawaiian, JetBlue, Alaska and Southwest; the second five are US Airways, Delta, Continental, Frontier and SkyWest; and No. 11 is American, followed by United, Mesa, Comair, Atlantic Southeast and American Eagle.
The AQR, as an industry standard, uses objective performance-based data to compare quality among airlines. The AQR measures performance in baggage handling, on-time arrivals, denied boardings and customer complaints. Comments on today's Newsline are by Wichita State airline quality researcher Dean Headley.
Announcer: According to the 21st annual Airline Quality Rating, AirTran is ranked No. 1 for 2010, replacing Hawaiian in the top spot. The study ranked the 16 largest U.S. airlines in on-time arrivals, baggage handling, denied boardings and customer complaints. Dean Headley, co-author of the national Airline Quality Rating at Wichita State University, says the airlines generally improved their performance.
Headley: "For 2010, the industry performed better for the third year in a row, which is a good thing for the consumer. In the areas we look at in on-time performance and mishandled bags and involuntary denied boardings, the industry performed better — marginally, but better. The area where the industry got worse was in customer complaints."
Announcer: Following AirTran in the rankings for 2010 were Hawaiian, JetBlue, Alaska and Southwest. Headley says the industry posted its third best overall score in the 20 years researchers have tracked the performance of airlines. This is Joe Kleinsasser at Wichita State University.
Sound bite #1
Headley explains why there was an increase in customer complaints. The sound bite is 19 seconds and the outcue is "faces right now."
Headley: "Customer complaints increased in number about 28 percent for 2010, which is a noticeable jump, almost 2,000 extra complaints. Most of those came in the area of what's called flight problems — cancellations, delays and unscheduled schedule changes — which really is the biggest problem that the consumer faces right now."
Sound bite #2
Headley says the airlines generally do a good job, but there's little margin for error. The sound bite is 21 seconds and the outcue is "complaining about."
Headley: "Well, the airlines are fairly efficient in what they do. They're on time and they don't lose a lot of bags, but the system is running so tight right now with the number of airlines that have taken seats out of service, there's just no room for error. And when you have a schedule change or a flight gets delayed for some reason, that causes a problem, and that's what the people are complaining about."
Sound bite #3
Headley says AirTran took over the top spot in the ranking for 2010. The sound bite is 23 seconds and the outcue is "came out on top."
Headley: "The rankings for this year produced a new No. 1. AirTran is the new No. 1 carrier for this year. Hawaiian was No. 1 for the last two years, but AirTran was, the year before that was No. 1, so they've always been at the top. Hawaiian just slipped a little bit in their baggage handling and number of customer complaints and AirTran didn't, and they came out on top."
Sound bite #4
Headley looks at how a merger can affect the ranking of airlines. The sound bite is 27 seconds and the outcue is "that particular merger."
Headley: "In the last few years we've had a couple of mergers — Delta, Northwest — which produced good results for Delta when Northwest was folded in, why it actually boosted Delta's performance from a low-tier carrier up to a middle-tier.
So they really gained some ground this year because of that. The merger we have on the horizon is Southwest and AirTran. Southwest has always been in the top third of the rankings anyhow, and AirTran No. 1, so I'm expecting really good things out of that particular merger."
Sound bite #5
Headley says Southwest continues to be the leader in the category of customer complaints. The sound bite is 23 seconds and the outcue is "with Southwest."
Headley: "Given the problems we've had this year with higher complaints, it's good to note that Southwest is always perennially the lowest receiver of complaints. They are the least complained about airline. They don't offer a lot of a promise. They say we're going to get you there and have some fun doing it, and they deliver on that very consistently. The people just don't find anything to complain about with Southwest."
Sound bite #6
Headley makes some observations about the industry during the 20-year history of the Airline Quality Rating. The sound bite is 31 seconds and the outcue is "certainly cost more."
Headley: "Over the 20 years we've been looking at this, we can distinctly tell that whenever the system is taxed as to volume and the number of passengers that we have, and actually the number of flights that are out there in the system; whenever that happens, back in 2000 and then again in 2007 is when we see it the most, the system fractures. We just can't handle the volume for that. So, as the airlines start to adjust the number of planes, we then start having problems with people not being able to find the seats that they want, and they certainly cost more."
Sound bite #7
Headley looks at the paradox of airlines performing quite well, but customer complaints on the rise. The sound bite is 34 seconds and the outcue is "they're making money."
Headley: "Overall, the airline system works pretty well, and it's generally to the airlines' advantage to have fewer flights and make more money on each flight. That frustrates the consumer, and so consequently we see the number of complaints going up. So, I think overall, we're in a good place, performing well, mostly on time, not losing a lot of bags. But we just haven't found the right balance; the airlines haven't, to keep the customers happy as the customer would like to be. I think the airlines are probably doing okay with that because they're making money."