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Airline performance is improving (even if you haven't noticed)

April 03, 2012|By Mary Forgione | Los Angeles Times Daily Travel & Deal blogger
  • AirTran leads the pack of 15 U.S. airlines that showed improved performance in 2011, a new report says.
AirTran leads the pack of 15 U.S. airlines that showed improved performance… (Chris Rank/Bloomberg )

U.S. airlines had more flights arriving on time, fewer passengers bumped from flights (or involuntarily denied boarding in airline lingo), fewer lost bags and fewer customer complaints last year, according to an analysis of Department of Transportation data.

The Airline Quality Rating 2012 report says 10 of the nation's top 15 airlines improved their performance between 2011 and 2010. AirTran Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Frontier Airlines and Alaska Airlines ranked highest, and Continental Airlines (now United Airlines) and regional carrier Mesa Airlines showed the biggest decrease.

"During 2011, the industry lowered the involuntary denied boarding rate by nearly 30%, suggesting that most airlines are getting it together," says Dean Headley, report researcher and associate professor of marketing at Wichita State University's business school. "Still, more than a third of the customer complaints for 2011 were for flight problems, such as unplanned schedule changes, delays and cancellations."

The quality rating calculated for overall airline performance increased slightly from -1.20 in 2010 to -1.08 in 2011.

AirTran improved on-time flights by 1.6% in 2011 over the previous year, and customer complaints dropped too.

But the number of passengers denied boarding involuntarily was worse than last year -- .57 per 10,000 passengers in 2011 compared with .39 in 2010. The airline's mishandled baggage rate remained the same; AirTran has the lowest mishandled baggage rate -- 1.63 per 1,000 passengers -- of all the other airlines.

So are passengers happy about airlines doing a better job? Headley said in a Reuters story that it's really unclear whether consumers notice. "Sometimes small changes don't always translate to better expectations and better perceptions of outcomes."

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