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PODCAST: Airline performance improves again in 2011

Monday, April 02, 2012 | Share

This WSU Newsline Podcast is available at http://www.wichita.edu/newslinepodcast.

See the transcript below:

You’re listening to the podcast edition of the Wichita State University audio newsline. Learn more about WSU — the home of Thinkers, Doers, Movers and Shockers — on the Web at wichita.edu.

Dean Headley
Dean Headley
According to the 22nd annual national Airline Quality Rating, for the second consecutive year, AirTran is the best-performing airline. The rating is conducted annually by researchers Dean Headley of Wichita State University and Brent Bowen of Purdue University.

Following AirTran in the rankings for 2011 are Hawaiian, JetBlue, Frontier and Alaska; the second five are Delta, Southwest, US Airways, SkyWest and American; and No. 11 is Continental, followed by United, Atlantic Southeast, Mesa and American Eagle.

The AQR, as an industry standard, uses objective performance-based data to compare quality among airlines. The study ranked the 15 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 big story was how the airlines performed overall in 2011.

Headley: “The good news this year is that airline quality has improved again for the fourth year in a row. But better than that, it’s the best we’ve seen in 22 years of doing the Airline Quality Rating.”

Headley explains why the airlines had their best performance ever last year.

Headley: "The Airline Quality Rating looks at four things — on-time, baggage handling, customer complaints and a thing called involuntary denied boardings. All of those got better, but involuntary denied boardings was dramatically improved, by 30 percent.”

And Headley says the airlines made a concerted effort to improve their performance in the area of involuntary denied boardings.

Headley: “Over the years, the airlines have improved many things — customer complaints were reduced and baggage handling was improved. Involuntary denied boardings was one of the few areas they really needed to work on the most, and they actually did a major change in that area for this year.”

While the top three airlines in 2010 were still the best in 2011, there were a couple of noticeable changes in the rankings.

Headley: “Most of the airlines in the ranking were basically the same, except Frontier made the most gain. They went from ninth to fourth from year to year. And the one that lost the most ground was Continental. It went from eighth to 11th. But the others were one or two positions from where they were a year before.”

When looking at the past 12 years, Headley says the airline industry performs most efficiently when the system isn't stressed by high passenger volume and high numbers of airplanes in the air. But every time there are more planes in the sky and more people flying, airline performance suffers.

The challenge is whether airline performance quality improvements can be maintained as more people choose to fly. Or does the infrastructure and air traffic control technology limit what the airlines can do?

Headley: “We hope that the airlines can continue to improve, but it really depends on infrastructure — partly the number of landing slots and how big the airports are, but more than anything it has to do with whether or not we get an updated air traffic control system so they can handle the volume and the passengers better.”

Headley says one factor contributing to the success in airline performance last year is something the airlines can’t control — the weather.

Headley: “This improvement over the last four years, and certainly this very good year, really is somewhat of a product of the fact that we didn’t have any bad weather last year to speak of. When weather is introduced to this very tight system, 80, 90 percent full airplanes, you just don’t have anywhere to put people that are out of position, so to speak, when it comes to a bad weather incident.”

For more information on the Airline Quality Rating, go to airlinequalityrating.com.

Thanks for listening. Until next time, this is Joe Kleinsasser for Wichita State University.

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