Wichita State News

Podcast: 2012 was second best ever for airline performance

Monday, April 08, 2013

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.

The airline industry fared well in 2012, according to the 23rd annual national Airline Quality Rating. The rating is conducted annually by researchers Dean Headley of Wichita State University and Brent Bowen of Purdue University. Headley says airline quality nearly matched last year’s record-setting performance.

Dean Headley
Dean Headley
Headley: “In 2012, the airlines performed just slightly worse than they did in 2011, hardly noticeable, few hundredths of a point difference. So, we’re looking at the second best year ever for airline performance.”

Virgin America made quite a debut in the rating, according to Headley.

Headley: "This year we have a new No. 1 airline, and that’s Virgin America. And it’s actually the first time in the ratings system for us. They’ve come on the radar. Typically that has been for the last five or six years it’s either been Hawaiian or AirTran as the No. 1, but Virgin America beat them out this year.”

But that wasn’t the only notable change in the rankings, as Headley explains.

Headley: “When you look at the actual AQR scores, we can see that American Eagle is the most improved airline. Their rating numbers show that, as well as the ranking. They went from 15 to 11. Others that kind of went the right direction were Delta. They did very well. They moved up in the rankings. But Hawaiian went the other direction. They went from second to fifth in the rankings.”

The airlines continue to do well in on-time performance. According to the Airline Quality Rating, Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance, 93.4 percent for 2012, and ExpressJet and American had the worst at 76.9 percent.

Headley: “On-time performance for the industry was actually better this year, about 82 percent as opposed to 80 percent in 2011. And about eight of the airlines actually improved their on-time performance. The worst of the batch were around 77 percent, so even at that we aren’t really that bad off.”

Headley says the airlines didn’t do quite as well last year with involuntary denied boardings.

Headley: “Involuntary denied boardings is an area where the airline industry actually got worse. With fewer seats and more people demanding those seats you’d expect some hiccups, if you would, in the availability of seats. And that actually went from like .8 to almost 1.0, so it’s a noticeable increase in the number of denied boardings.”

JetBlue had the lowest involuntary denied boardings at .01 per 10,000 passengers. SkyWest had the highest involuntary denied boarding rate at 2.32 per 10,000 passengers. Headley says the airlines are continuing to improve in the area of mishandled bags.

Headley: “From a customer’s perspective, I guess mishandled bags is one you look at a lot, and that actually got a little bit better, just slightly, about three tenths of a point better in baggage handling, mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. So the industry is at least paying attention and going in the right direction.”

Virgin America had the best baggage handling rate, and American Eagle had the worst baggage handling rate of all the airlines. Headley says there was an increase in the area of customer complaints.

Headley: “As you might guess with higher demand more things go wrong, so customer complaints got worse this year, noticeably worse, from about 1.2 to 1.4 complaints per 100,000 passengers.”

What is the flying public complaining about? Headley explains.

Headley: “The complaints typically are primarily, about a third of them, are for things called flight problems, schedule changes, cancellations, delays, hiccups if you would in the planning of a consumers travel, followed by reservations, ticketing and boarding which is the process of getting a ticket and executing. And then the third biggest area is customer complaints other than what we can capture elsewhere, so there are still some things not working well in the system.”

During the past decade or so, there have been a number of airline mergers, but those may be coming to an end.

Headley: “Since the early 2000s or so, in the last 10 or 12 years, we’ve had kind of the age of mergers, if you would. And we’ll still see a couple more, American and USAir still to execute and Southwest and AirTran still to execute all that, but generally speaking this is probably near the end. We don’t have that many more to merge, and we’re still trying to figure out exactly how well they’re going.”

Headley says 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?

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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Created on Monday, April 08, 2013; Last modified on Monday, April 08, 2013