Allegiant has top performance in 2020 Airline Quality Rating; airline industry posts declined numbers


The 30th annual Airline Quality Rating results show an industry that had a performance decline for 2019. Results released today (Monday, May 4) reflect poorer industry performance in all four of the criteria tracked for calendar year 2019.

The AQR is a joint research project by co-researchers Dr. Dean Headley and Dr. Brent Bowen. This research originated at the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas.

Findings show that all four AQR factors tracked – on-time arrivals, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled bags and customer complaints – declined from 2018 levels. While most of the factors (on-time arrivals, involuntary denied boardings and customer complaints) were only slightly worse than the prior year, the rate of mishandled baggage changed greatly for 2019. This large difference in mishandled baggage rate relates directly to a new measurement metric implemented for calendar year 2019. Starting with the January 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report, mishandled baggage is measured as the number of mishandled bags per number of checked bags. Previous years used the measurement of mishandled bags per number of enplaned passengers. The effect of the measurement change more than doubled the value for mishandled baggage used in the AQR calculations. 

None of the nine airlines rated in 2018 and 2019 showed improvement in all four of the factors in the ratings. One airline, Frontier, had the same AQR score for 2019 as it had in 2018. Eight others posted a decline in overall performance scores for 2019. Those airlines showing a decline for 2019 were Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, Jet Blue, Southwest, Spirit and United. Allegiant is new to the AQR for 2019, and it posted the best AQR score of all 10 airlines rated for 2019.

“Overall, industry performance did not change much,” said Dean Headley, emeritus professor of marketing at the W. Frank Barton School of Business at WSU. “The new baggage handling measurement certainly had an impact on the scores, but it will be a better measurement for customers moving forward. We will all have a better sense of mishandled baggage risk with the new measurement.”

AQR study co-researcher Brent Bowen said, “As a whole, the industry held close to steady for the year. The addition of Allegiant to the AQR and their debuting in the No. 1 position is significant and in some ways reflects the impact of the metric changes for mishandled baggage by the DOT.”

An electronic version of the full report, with details on each airline, is available at

Inside this year’s rating

Below is the 2019 ranking of the nation’s largest 10 airlines, according to the Airline Quality Rating, with the 2018 ranking in parentheses:

1. Allegiant (new for 2019)
2. Hawaiian (5)
3. Southwest (3)
4. Delta (1)
5. Alaska (4)
6. JetBlue (2)
7. Frontier (9)
8. Spirit (7)
9. United (6)
10. American (9)

On-time performance

Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance (88.3 percent) for 2019, and Frontier had the worst (73.1 percent).

Only three airlines improved their on-time arrival performance in 2019. Four of the 10 airlines rated had an on-time arrival percentage of better than 80 percent (Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian and Southwest). On-time performance for the industry in 2019 was 79.4 percent, compared to 79.6 percent in 2018.

Involuntary denied boardings

Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue and United were the industry leaders in avoiding involuntary denied boarding incidents in 2019 with a rate of 0.01 or less per 10,000 passengers. American had the highest involuntary denied boarding rate with 0.57 per 10,000 passengers.

Four airlines improved their involuntary denied boardings rate in 2019. Spirit recorded the largest improvement, and American had the greatest increase in the rate of involuntary denied boardings. Delta (0.00), Hawaiian (0.00), JetBlue (00.1) and United (00.1) are clearly the industry leaders in avoiding denied boarding incidents. Industry performance was slightly worse in 2019 (0.19 per 10,000 passengers) than it was in 2018 (0.14). Most airlines have made great strides in lowering the number of involuntary denied boardings.

Baggage handling

A reminder is needed here regarding the change implemented in the way mishandled bags are reported. Starting with the January 2019 Air Travel Consumer Report, the ratio used for measuring the rate of mishandled bags was changed to reflect a more useful number for the consumer. In all years prior to 2019, mishandled bags were reported as a ratio of mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. The current (new) reporting uses the ratio of the number of mishandled bags per 1,000 checked (enplaned) bags. This gives consumers a better assessment of the risk they face when checking a bag. It also provides a more accurate measure of the performance of airlines relative to the number of bags entrusted to their handling.

Allegiant had the best baggage handling rate (1.75 mishandled bags per 1,000 checked bags) of all airlines, and American had the worst baggage handling rate (8.60) mishandled bags per 1,000 checked bags.Due largely to the change in measurement criteria, all nine airlines rated in 2018 had higher mishandled baggage rates for 2019. The industry rate increased from 2.43 per 1,000 passengers in 2018 to 5.57 per 1,000 checked bags in 2019.

Consumer complaints

Southwest had the lowest consumer complaint rate (0.33 per 100,000 passengers) of all airlines. Spirit had the highest consumer complaint rate (2.85 per 100,000 passengers).
Customer complaints per 100,000 passengers increased slightly from 1.04 in 2018 to 1.06 in 2019. The majority of complaints (74 percent) to the Department of Transportation were for flight problems (40.0 percent), customer service (12.6 percent), baggage (12.0 percent), and reservations, ticketing and boarding (9.4 percent).

More about the Airline Quality Rating

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

The AQR is the only study in the country based on performance measures. Criteria included in the report are screened to meet two basic elements: They must be readily obtainable from published data sources for each airline, and they must be important to consumers regarding airline quality. The resulting criteria include areas such as baggage handling, customer complaints, involuntary denied boardings and on-time arrivals.

The co-authors invite the flying public to participate in the Annual Passenger Survey at


An electronic version of the full report will be available after 12:01 a.m. (EDT) Monday, May 4, 2020 at Click on the "press release" tab to access the ratings directly.

The Airline Quality Rating report will also be available for download at

After the news release is published, if you would like to interview Dean Headley, call 316-648-8570. Interviews also may be arranged through Joe Kleinsasser, Wichita State University, 316-204-8266 (cell) or


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