Slideshow: America's Best and Worst Airlines 2013

By Miriam B. Weiner, Staff WriterApril 8, 2014
By Miriam B. Weiner, Staff WriterApril 8, 2014, at 11:34 a.m.
U.S. News & World Report

Slideshow: America's Best and Worst Airlines 2013

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America's Best and Worst Airlines 2013

America's Best and Worst Airlines 2013

For the past 23 years, Dr. Brent Bowen of Purdue University and Dr. Dean Headley, associate professor of marketing at Wichita State University have used data compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation to compose the annual Airline Quality Ratings (AQR) report. The 2013 report evaluates 14 American carriers based on four categories: The percentage of flights that arrive on time, the rate of involuntary denied boardings (or "bumped" passengers), the frequency of mishandled bags and the number of customer complaints received. Each airline receives a score based on Bowen and Headley's tried-and-true methodology. The following airlines are ranked from best to worst based on their 2013 AQR score.  Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013
14. Virgin America

14. Virgin America

AQR Score: -0.35
A newcomer to the AQR Report, Virgin America landed on top in two out of four criteria used to generate the ratings. The airline saw a denied boarding rate of 0.07 out of every 10,000 passengers, and only experienced 0.87 instances of mishandled luggage per every 1,000 passengers. Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013
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America's Best and Worst Airlines 2013

For the past 23 years, Dr. Brent Bowen of Purdue University and Dr. Dean Headley, associate professor of marketing at Wichita State University have used data compiled by the U.S. Department of Transportation to compose the annual Airline Quality Ratings (AQR) report. The 2013 report evaluates 14 American carriers based on four categories: The percentage of flights that arrive on time, the rate of involuntary denied boardings (or "bumped" passengers), the frequency of mishandled bags and the number of customer complaints received. Each airline receives a score based on Bowen and Headley's tried-and-true methodology. The following airlines are ranked from best to worst based on their 2013 AQR score.  Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

14. Virgin America

AQR Score: -0.35
A newcomer to the AQR Report, Virgin America landed on top in two out of four criteria used to generate the ratings. The airline saw a denied boarding rate of 0.07 out of every 10,000 passengers, and only experienced 0.87 instances of mishandled luggage per every 1,000 passengers. Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

13. JetBlue Airways

AQR Score: -0.43
If there's one thing at which JetBlue excels, it's making sure that all of its customers get from Point A to Point B. Less than one out of every 10,000 travelers who flew JetBlue in 2012 was bumped from a flight. "JetBlue directly addresses [involuntary] denied boarding in its philosophy," Headley explained. The low-cost carrier also manages to surpass the industry-wide standards in handling checked baggage. "JetBlue can somehow manage everything effectively. I hope the other airlines pay attention," Headley said. Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

12. AirTran

AQR Score: -0.51
According to Headley, AirTran has consistently earned better ratings than other major carriers, though the effects of the 2011 merger with Southwest Airlines have yet to be fully realized. However, AirTran has a good chance of maintaining its low mishandled baggage rates if Headley's theory on baggage fees holds true: While Southwest will continue to offer two free checked bags per passenger, AirTran will continue to charge travelers a small fee (at least until 2014).  Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

11. Delta Air Lines

AQR Score: -0.58
According to Headley, Delta Air Lines usually fairs well in the annual AQR report. Though the airline saw some decline in overall performance following its acquisition of Northwest Airlines in 2010, Delta has managed to cut the number of traveler complaints from two per every 100,000 passengers in 2010 to 0.73 in 2012. Delta has also bettered its on-time arrival percentage track record and its rate of mishandled bags. Headley is optimistic: "Things are getting better," he said. Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

10. Hawaiian Airlines

AQR Score: -0.71
Hawaiian Airlines has earned a brag-worthy AQR score for the past several years, receiving less than one customer complaint per every 100,000 passengers. It's easy to see why travelers love flying with the Aloha State's carrier: In 2012, less than one out of every 10,000 customers were denied from boarding a flight, and 93.4 percent of flights arrived on time.   Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

9. Alaska Airlines

AQR Score: -0.77
Alaska Airlines's ability to reach the gate on schedule seems to be ever in flux: The carrier's on-time arrival rate improved from 2010 to 2011, but this year's AQR report shows a slight drop in the percentage of flights that arrived on schedule. Maybe we should chalk it up to bad weather, as Alaska Airlines surpassed the industry averages in the three other fields evaluated in the report. The airline should certainly be commended for decreasing its denied boarding rates from 0.82 instances per 10,000 passengers in 2011 to 0.63 in 2012. Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

8. Frontier Airlines

AQR Score: -0.78
The uptick in Frontier Airlines's passenger complaints is possibly the result of the carrier's worsening timeliness. In 2010, 81.4 percent of Frontier flights landed on schedule; in 2012, that rate dropped to 77.9 percent. Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

7. Southwest Airlines

AQR Score: -0.81
Southwest is the only airline evaluated for the 2013 AQR report that does not charge passengers for checked luggage (the first two bags fly for free), yet the airline reported an above-average rate of mishandled baggage in 2012. According to Headley, airlines that make a significant profit on bags often experience fewer instances of lost luggage. "It gives you a picture of what Southwest is giving up," he said. Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

6. US Airways

AQR Score: -0.87
US Airways saw progress across all four categories evaluated in the 2013 AQR report, but whether the carrier will be able to continue to improve as it merges with American Airlines is yet to be seen. Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

5. American Airlines

AQR Score: -1.11
Travelers had to reconsider checking luggage with American Airlines in 2011: That year, the airline experienced 3.55 instances of mishandled baggage per 1,000 customers. In 2012, however, American Airlines bettered their mishandled baggage track record, reducing cases of misplaced luggage to 2.92 per every 1,000 passengers.  Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

4. American Eagle Airlines

AQR Score: -1.78
Though it experienced the worst rate of mishandled baggage out of all airlines evaluated for the AQR report, American Eagle (American Airlines's regional carrier) saw fewer cases of lost or damaged luggage in 2012, with only 5.8 instances of mishandled luggage per 1,000 passengers compared to 7.32 in 2011. Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

3. SkyWest Airlines

AQR Score: -1.88
In 2012, SkyWest Airlines saw its number of denied boardings climb from 0.68 per 10,000 passengers to 2.32. The airline also saw an increase in the number of mishandled bags, reporting 5.26 instances per 1,000 passengers in 2012 (up from 4.13 in 2011).    Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

2. ExpressJet

AQR Score: -1.95
This regional carrier — which has working contracts with American Airlines, Delta and United — tied with American Airlines as having the lowest percent of on-time flights in 2012, with 23 percent of its flights landing late. Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013

1. United Airlines

AQR Score: -2.18
The 2010 merger with Continental Airlines has taken its toll on United's AQR score, placing it at the top of U.S. News Travel's 2013 list of America's "meanest" airlines. But according to Headley, that's to be expected. "Whenever airlines merge, you tend to see a year or two of pause or decline before you can tell if it's getting better," he said. Read More:
America's Meanest Airlines: 2013
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