Airline Complaints Up 28% in 2010

NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Airline performance improved slightly in 2010, but that didn’t stop travelers from complaining en masse to the Department of Transportation.

That’s according to the annual Airline Quality Survey, a report created as a joint research project of Wichita State University and Purdue University based on travel data gathered by the DOT. The report found that overall Airline Quality Rating, which accounts for on-time performance, baggage handling, denied boardings and customer complaints, improved for the third straight year. That improvement was fueled by slightly increased on-time arrival percentage (which improved from 79.4% in 2009 to 80% in 2010), better baggage handling and decreased involuntary denied boarding (which is when passengers with reservations are denied entry to an overbooked flight, rather than voluntarily being bumped).

That leaves but one category where airlines got worse last year: Consumer complaints to the DOT jumped from 7,120 in 2009 to 9,119 last year. Breaking down the complaints finds that more than half of that increase came in the “flight problems” category, which concerns all complaints due to cancellations and delays. Wichita State University marketing professor Dean Headley, who co-authored the report, pointed to high demand as cause for this dissatisfaction with flight performance.

“As the system adjusts to higher demand for air travel, more things are not going to go as planned for travelers,” said Headley in a press release. “When you look at the past 10 years, you find that the airline industry performs most efficiently when the system isn't stressed by high passenger volume.”

In addition to rating the industry as a whole, the report also examined the performance of individual airlines. Based on composite AQR score, AirTran Airways (Stock Quote: AAI) – which is due to be absorbed by Southwest Airlines (Stock Quote: LUV) – ranked first, seizing the top spot from Hawaiian, which had ranked first the previous two years. Here are the 16 domestic airlines, ranked by Airline Quality Rating.

1.    AirTran
2.    Hawaiian
3.    JetBlue
4.    Alaska
5.    Southwest
6.    US Airways
7.    Delta
8.    Continental
9.    Frontier
10.    SkyWest
11.    American
12.    United
13.    Mesa
14.    Comair
15.    Atlantic Southeast
16.    American Eagle

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