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America's Best and Worst Airlines 2014

U.S. News & World Report

America's Best and Worst Airlines 2014

Flight delays, lost bags, denied boardings — these are just some of the issues that plague the American airline industry. Each year, Brent Bowen, of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and Dean Headley, of Wichita State University, analyze monthly performance data published by the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine which U.S.-based airlines are operating well and which ones could step up their game. See how the 15 evaluated national and regional airlines fared in the 2014 Airline Quality Rating (AQR) report.
Note: The AQR report assigns each airline a ranking based on its score with 1 being best and 15 being worst. For this slideshow's purposes, the airlines are ordered from the highest-scoring (shown as No. 15) to the lowest-scoring (shown as No. 1).
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014
15. Virgin America

15. Virgin America

AQR Score: -0.32

Virgin America's second year in the AQR report proved almost as successful as its first. Though it managed to lower its denied boarding rate, the carrier saw a small increase in the luggage it mismanaged. Still, Virgin bested the industry average in on-time arrival percentage, number of denied boardings and mishandled baggage.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014
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Flight delays, lost bags, denied boardings — these are just some of the issues that plague the American airline industry. Each year, Brent Bowen, of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and Dean Headley, of Wichita State University, analyze monthly performance data published by the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine which U.S.-based airlines are operating well and which ones could step up their game. See how the 15 evaluated national and regional airlines fared in the 2014 Airline Quality Rating (AQR) report.
Note: The AQR report assigns each airline a ranking based on its score with 1 being best and 15 being worst. For this slideshow's purposes, the airlines are ordered from the highest-scoring (shown as No. 15) to the lowest-scoring (shown as No. 1).
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

15. Virgin America

AQR Score: -0.32

Virgin America's second year in the AQR report proved almost as successful as its first. Though it managed to lower its denied boarding rate, the carrier saw a small increase in the luggage it mismanaged. Still, Virgin bested the industry average in on-time arrival percentage, number of denied boardings and mishandled baggage.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

14. JetBlue

AQR Score: -0.42
JetBlue works hard to ensure than every passenger gets where he or she needs to go, which explains the budget carrier's extremely low bump rate (just 0.01 instances per every 10,000 passengers in 2013). But getting there on time is a different story: Only 74.4 percent of JetBlue flights stayed true to schedule.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

13. Hawaiian Airlines

AQR Score: -0.59
Hawaiian Airlines is great at getting people to their destination on time: More than 90 percent of Hawaiian's flights land on schedule, which is most likely due to good weather and shorter routes. But the airline could do more to lower its mishandled baggage rates. "How do you lose a bag between Maui and Molokai?" Headley asked.
Note: This year, Hawaiian Airlines received the same score as Delta Air Lines. The order of this list was determined by the ranks provided in the 2014 AQR report.

Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

12. Delta Air Lines

AQR Score: -0.59
Delta received the lowest AQR score in 2010 — two years after it merged with Northwest Airlines. But since then, this major carrier has worked to improve its performance across all four categories evaluated for the report. In 2013, the number of consumer complaints Delta received was a miniscule 0.59 per 100,000 passengers. Meanwhile, the Airline Customer Satisfaction Index showed Delta receiving its highest approval rating in more than a decade.
Note: This year, Delta Air Lines received the same score as Hawaiian Airlines. The order of this list was determined by the ranks provided in the 2014 AQR report.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

11. Alaska Airlines

AQR Score: -0.69
Alaska Airlines' commendable performance in 2012 carried over into 2013. The Alaska-based carrier did see a slight drop in its on-time arrival percentage and a small uptick in the number of instances of mishandled luggage reported per every 1,000 passengers. But the airline also saw fewer consumer complaints in 2013 — only 0.44 per every 100,000 travelers.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

10. Endeavor Air

AQR Score: -0.85
New to the AQR report, this regional carrier performed better than the industry averages across the board. A subsidiary of Delta, Endeavor Air saw more than 80 percent of its flights reach the gate on time and received fewer than 0.86 complaints per every 100,000 customers. Still, Endeavor did report 2.66 instances of baggage mishandling per every 1,000 fliers.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

9. US Airways

AQR Score: -0.88
US Airways has seen some decline in performance following its recent moves to merge with American Airlines: Fewer flights arrived on time in 2013 than in 2012, and the airline's mishandled baggage rate saw a small increase. Still, US Airways received fewer complaints in 2013, down to 1.41 per every 100,000 customers from 1.74 in 2012.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

8. Southwest Airlines

AQR Score: -1.06
Southwest received the lowest number of complaints in 2013, but whether or not it can maintain its good reputation as it continues to merge with AirTran and expand its coverage has yet to be seen. Headley notes that the growth of Southwest's network could lead to complications. "The complexity that Southwest now has in its system is hard to manage," he said. "Southwest has a pretty staunch hold on 'we know how to do it and do it right,' but that will be hard to maintain as the airline continues to grow."
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

7. American Airlines

AQR Score: -1.10
Whether American Airlines will benefit from US Airways' higher performance scores as the two carriers move forward with their merger has yet to be seen. American did improve its on-time arrival rate and reduce its denied-boarding rate in 2013. Still, the number of instances of mishandled baggage and the number of consumer complaints American Airlines received increased in 2013.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

6. AirTran

AQR Score: -1.20
In 2013, more than 20 percent of AirTran flights landed late (up from 12.9 percent in 2012), while the carrier saw its rate of baggage mishandling more than double from 1.58 instances per every 1,000 passengers in 2012 to 3.71 in 2013. Headley speculates that this spike in lost and mishandled luggage could be due to employee discontent resulting from the ongoing merger with Southwest Airlines.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

5. Frontier Airlines

AQR Score: -1.35
Over the past several years, Frontier Airlines has been working to restructure its business model, and according to Headley, "redefining how things work hurt performance." Frontier received the most complaints of any airline evaluated for the 2014 AQR report with 3.09 grievances filed per every 100,000 passengers. The airline also saw its number of denied boardings increase to 1.23 per 10,000 passengers in 2013 from 0.78 in 2012.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

4. United Airlines

AQR Score: -1.43
United has made considerable improvements since its merger with Continental Airlines in 2010 — the most significant change was in the number of complaints it received: Data shows that the number of grievances United received in 2013 was half of what the airline saw in 2012. "As far as making Continental loyalists happy, I think that flurry of resignation has ended," Headley speculated. "They're living with it."
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

3. ExpressJet

AQR Score: -1.76
ExpressJet, a regional carrier operating flights for American Airlines, Delta and United, saw minor improvement in its denied boarding and mishandled baggage rates, which could explain the lower number of complaints it received in 2013. Still, only 72.8 percent of ExpressJet flights arrived on time in 2013, down from 76.9 percent in 2012.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

2. SkyWest Airlines

AQR Score: -1.84
SkyWest operates flights for United, Delta, American Airlines, US Airways and Alaska Airlines, and according to the low number of complaints it received in 2013, fliers think the regional airline does a fairly good job. Still, SkyWest did slip slightly in the number of flights that landed on time in 2013, and it saw a small uptick in its denied boarding rate.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014

1. American Eagle Airlines

AQR Score: -1.95
American Eagle Airlines — which will soon be rebranded as Envoy — performed below the industry average in 2013. American Airlines' regional carrier reported the most instances of lost or mishandled luggage of all 15 evaluated airlines (5.90 occurrences per every 1,000 passenger), and nearly 30 percent of American Eagle flights arrived late.
Read More: America's Meanest Airlines 2014
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