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Airlines' Customer Service Continues to Worsen, Survey Says

April 03, 2001|From Washington Post

WASHINGTON — News flash. Airlines are lousy at customer service. And they're getting worse.

That's according to an annual study released Monday that showed that on-time arrivals, baggage handling and overall customer complaints have worsened, despite repeated pledges by airlines to improve.

The survey is the 11th annual report by two university professors, Brent Bowen of the University of Nebraska and Dean Headley of Wichita State University, who compile and study statistics from the Transportation Department to rank an airline's on-time arrivals, baggage handling, consumer complaints and involuntary denied boarding, or bumping.

The industry's overall rating dropped almost 11% to a negative 2.05, down from a negative 1.85 in 1999. Seven airlines' performance worsened year-over-year; only three improved.

"Generally speaking, it was a bad year for airlines," Headley said.

Among the findings:

* The number of flights arriving on time dropped to 72.6% in 2000, down from 76.1% in 1999.

* The number of bags not arriving with their owners increased to 5.29 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers, up from 5.08 in 1999.

* The number of passengers denied boarding because of overbooking increased to 1.04 per 10,000, up from .88 in 1999.

Unlike other airline customer service studies published this year by the department's inspector general's office, this study ranked specific airline's performance compared with previous years.

Some airlines improved. For the first time, Delta Air Lines ranked No. 1, up from third in 1999.

Alaska Air Group Inc.'s Alaska Airlines was second in the survey, followed by Southwest Airlines Co., US Airways, Northwest Airlines Corp., AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, Continental Airlines Inc. and Trans World Airlines Inc.

But United Airlines, which will become the nation's largest carrier if its acquisition of US Airways is approved, was ranked ninth out of 10. Last was America West Holdings Corp.'s America West Airlines.

In 1999, Southwest ranked first.

Last week United held a teleconference to remind reporters of its dispute with its pilots union last year during which United had to cancel 20,000 flights. United President Rono Dutta said United's ranking was "predictable" but skewed by labor problems.

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