Airline Quality Rating: Complaints are still an issue for travelers; all performance criteria declined

Flight problems and customer complaints filed against major U.S. airlines continued to be concerns for travelers in 2022, according to the annual Airline Quality Rating, released today by Wichita State University.
All four performance criteria used in the Airline Quality Rating showed a decline for 2022 over 2021, AQR researchers Dr. Dean Headley and Dr. Brent Bowen found. Flight problems, refunds and baggage handling issues continued to be concerns. Overall complaints increased by 55% in 2022. This combination of complaints amounted to nearly 73% of all complaints last year, pushing down overall quality scores for most airlines included in the report.
“If you did travel by air in 2022, chances are you saw busy airports, higher prices and performance issues. A decline in on-time performance, more denied boardings and a higher rate of mishandled baggage resulted in a higher number of complaints. All are to be expected with more people flying in the system,” said Headley, Emeritus Associate Professor of Marketing at the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University. “The airlines have a big challenge in working through a quicker than expected return to pre-pandemic passenger volumes. They are trying, but it takes time to get everything back in place.”
Now in its 33rd year, the AQR originated at WSU’s Barton School and ranks as the premier statistical study of major airline performance in the U.S. An objective comparison of airline quality, it is the nation’s longest-running study of its kind.
Data from the U.S. Department of Transportation are instrumental in informing the analysis. The federal figures show that all four performance criteria tracked in the AQR — on-time arrivals, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled bags and customer complaints — all got worse in 2022 compared to 2021.

Bowen, Headley’s co-author, observes that “the traveling public is certainly flying again. Consumers have a pent-up desire for air travel and are putting plans they made during the pandemic in action. The industry is seeing a quicker than expected return to passenger volumes and problems with performance that comes with that volume.” 

This year’s ratings:

Below is the 2022 ranking of the nation’s largest 10 airlines, according to the Airline Quality Rating, with the 2021 ranking in parentheses*:

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

On-time Performance (OT)

Delta Airlines had the best on-time performance (82.5%) for 2022.

Allegiant had the worst on-time performance (63.4%) for 2022.

None of the 10 airlines rated improved their on-time arrival performance in 2022. Only one airline (Delta) had an on-time percentage over 80%. On-time for 2022 for the industry was 73.0%, compared with 79.1% in 2021. 

Involuntary Denied Boardings (DB)

Frontier had the highest involuntary denied boardings rate at 2.66 per 10,000 passengers.

Allegiant, Delta and Hawaiian had the lowest rates of involuntary denied boardings at 0.00 per 10,000 passengers.

Three airlines (Allegiant, Delta, Hawaiian) had the same rate of denied boardings in 2022 as in 2021. Allegiant recorded the largest improvement in denied boardings. Allegiant (0.00), Delta (0.00), Hawaiian (0.00), JetBlue (0.00) and United (0.01) are clearly the industry leaders in avoiding denied-boarding incidents. Industry performance was noticeably worse in 2022 (0.42 per 10,000 passengers) than it was in 2021 (0.17).

Mishandled Baggage (MB)

* Clarification is needed regarding a change in the way mishandled bags are reported in the Air Travel Consumer Report:

Starting with the January 2022 Air Travel Consumer Report, the ratio used for measuring the rate of mishandled bags was adjusted to reflect a more useful number for the consumer. The new metric for 2022 reports mishandled baggage as a ratio of mishandled bags based per 100 enplaned (checked) bags. In all data years prior to 2020, mishandled bags were reported as a ratio of mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. For data years 2020 and 2021, the ratio of the number of mishandled bags per 1,000 checked (enplaned) bags was used. Starting in January of 2022 the ratio of the number of mishandled bags per 100 enplaned (checked) bags is used. This new metric gives consumers a better assessment of the risk they face when checking a bag. It also provides a more accurate measure of the airlines’ performance relative to the number of bags entrusted to their handling. It does, however, make comparison of 2022 AQR results non-comparable to all earlier published AQR results. For comparison purposes, results shown in this release and the AQR report reflect the 2021 values for mishandled baggage using the new ratio.

Allegiant had the best baggage-handling performance under the new measurement approach (0.16 mishandled bags per 100 checked bags) of all airlines.  

American had the worst baggage-handling performance (0.94 mishandled bags per 100 checked bags) of all airlines. 

The mishandled baggage rate for the industry changed from 0.44 per 100 checked bags in 2021 to 0.56 per 100 checked bags in 2022. 

Consumer Complaints (CC)

Delta had the lowest consumer complaint rate (2.66 per 100,000 passengers) of all airlines rated.

Spirit had the highest consumer complaint rate (10.10 per 100,000 passengers) of all airlines rated.

The industry rate for customer complaints per 100,000 passengers increased from 4.51 in 2021 to 7.39 in 2022. The industry received record numbers of customer complaints. The most complaints (31.7%) to the Department of Transportation were regarding flight problems. In 2021, refunds were the subject of 59.1% of complaints filed. In 2022, refunds accounted for 25.7% of complaints, while baggage (15.5%) and reservations, ticketing and boarding (10.0%) were of less concern to the flying public in 2022. 

Enplaned passengers increased to pre-pandemic level in 2022. Enplaned passengers for 2022 totaled 724,614,031. That was a 30% increase over the 566,404,801 enplaned passenger the airline served in 2021. This increase in travelers across the year certainly hurt the on-time, baggage-handling and denied-boardings performance for most airlines. As mentioned before, the increase in customer complaints was the primary performance issue for airlines’ AQR scores in 2022. How quickly each airline addresses customer complaints will impact how each airline’s AQR score changes.     

See the full report

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 actual performance measures reported by the airlines. 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 AQR criteria includes performance data for baggage handling, customer complaints, involuntary denied boardings and on-time arrivals.

About Wichita State University

Wichita State University is Kansas' only urban public research university, enrolling almost 22,000 students between its main campus and WSU Tech, including students from every state in the U.S. and more than 100 countries. Wichita State and WSU Tech are recognized for being student centered and innovation driven.

Located in the largest city in the state with one of the highest concentrations in the United States of jobs involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Wichita State University provides uniquely distinctive and innovative pathways of applied learning, applied research and career opportunities for all of our students.

The Innovation Campus, which is a physical extension of the Wichita State University main campus, is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing research/innovation parks, encompassing over 120 acres and is home to a number of global companies and organizations.

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