WASHINGTON — A new guide by the Consumer Federation of America gives travelers comparisons on air fares and airline performance as well as less lofty information such as bar hours at major airports and how much it costs to get downtown.
The federation's analysis of airline fares shows that the largest carriers are also usually more expensive without necessarily providing the best service.
Southwest, Midway and Braniff airlines won the guide's top honors for low fares, while Alaska, Southwest and Delta were rewarded with a "good" rating on performance among the 18 air carriers examined.
Two of the industry's giants--American Airlines and United Airlines--as well as Pacific Southwest Airlines were singled out as the most expensive. The "very poor" service rating went to five airlines--Continental, Eastern, Northwest, Pan American and Trans World.
Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the consumer advocacy group, called airline tickets "perhaps as difficult a product to purchase as there exists" and that the guide is aimed at giving travelers "ammunition" to make the best choice as well as providing generally useful hints about air travel.
The 203-page guide to air travelers compares fares charged by 18 airlines along 17 popular routes; gives airlines a "service index" based on how many complaints are lodged with the Transportation Department; provides direct airline-to-airline fare comparisons in certain markets, and gives brief profiles of 18 carriers and 36 major airports.
While the guide provides an array of travel tips, the usefulness of its airline fare and service ranking may be limited because of the rapidly changing nature of the airline business, industry officials suggested.
But Brobeck said ranking is based on an average fare, calculated from regular coach and two-day advance purchase discount fares on 17 popular routes, and are likely to remain fairly stable.
The guide, "How to Fly: The Consumer Federation of America's Airline Survival Guide," can be purchased for $7.95 plus $1 for postage and handling from the federation at 1424 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.