Airline quality best in years, but major Tucson carriers lag

The low-priced carrier was the most improved US airline in 2016, according to the 27th Airline Quality Rating study, which ranks the 12 largest air carriers based upon on-time performance, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled bags and customer complaints. Their customers seem to be complaining less often.

Southwest had the lowest consumer complaint rate of all 12 airlines.

Topping the 2017 study rankings is Alaska Airlines and rounding out the 12 are Delta, Virgin, JetBlue, Hawaiian, Southwest, SkyWest, United, American and ExpressJet.

Alaska Airlines has steadily climbed the ranks since 2015, when the carrier took the No. 5 spot on the report.

The majority of domestic airlines have been steadily improving over the past year, putting them at their overall highest quality in the past 26 years, according to the Airline Quality Rating report.

As Delta Air Lines emerges from thousands of flight cancellations over five days following a thunderstorm, its 2016 performance gained it a No. 2 ranking in a new airline study released Monday.

"Spirit is, by far, the most improved", said Dean Headley, co-author of the report and an associate professor at Wichita State's Barton School of Business.

"Beginning last spring, Spirit initiated a number of programs that have led to major improvements in on-time performance and a 64 percent reduction in complaints year over year", Berry said. It will be interesting to see if Alaska / Virgin America can avoid the common post-merger decline in performance.

At the same time performance has improved, the average price to fly has decreased, down 9 percent to $344 in 2016, he said. Six of the 12 airlines rated had an on-time arrival percentage of better than 80 percent.

In 2016, Spirit's on-time arrival performance rose to 74.3 percent from 69 percent in 2015, according to the study. According to TripAdvisor reviews, Alaska scored highest on cleanliness, customer service, and its boarding and check-in process.

Not only does the report hold airlines to the fire but it can help consumers make more informed decisions when planning their next trip.

Overall, the industry had 0.62 denied boardings per 10,000 passengers in 2016, compared to 0.76 in 2015.

The number of passengers who were denied boarding fell from 0.76 per 10,000 passengers in 2015 to 0.62 per 10,000 passengers past year. 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.

  • Anthony Vega