A trip through the Atlanta airport may never qualify as relaxing, but travelers here have it better than those in a lot of cities, a new report suggests.
Atlanta’s top two airlines, AirTran Airways and Delta Air Lines, ranked nos. 3 and 4, respectively, among 14 carriers in the annual Airline Quality Rating released Monday.
Travelers flying Delta or AirTran in 2012 had a better chance of an on-time arrival, for example, than those on airlines that dominate in other parts of the country, including US Airways, United and American, the report said.
The only airlines ranked ahead of Delta and AirTran in the overall ranking were low-cost carriers Virgin America and JetBlue, which do not fly to Atlanta.
Delta, the dominant carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, was highest-ranked among the major “legacy” carriers, or the large airlines with traditional hub-and-spoke route networks. Atlanta-based Delta has improved its standing in airline rankings since spending much of the the first decade of the 2000s wrestling with financial problems that led to a bankruptcy reorganization, and later a buyout of Northwest Airlines.
In a message to employees last week, Delta chief executive Richard Anderson said improving on-time performance and customer service are important factors in generating more business. When flights run on time and travelers get their bags and they get friendly service, “it really matters, because they’re going to be making their decision for their summer travel soon and we want that decision to be on Delta.”
On Monday, Delta added in response to its ranking that “we’re determined to improve even more in 2013.”
Still, Delta came in behind perennially high-ranking AirTran Airways, whose operations are being gradually folded into merger partner Southwest Airlines — No. 8 in the ranking.
The Airline Quality Rating produced by researchers at Wichita State University and Purdue University combines data on the airlines’ on-time rates, baggage handling, denied boardings and customer complaints reported to the federal government for 2012 to come up with an aggregate ranking.
Delta had more on-time flights, fewer mishandled bags and fewer customer complaints in 2012 compared with 2011, all contributing to a higher score. But Delta performed worse in one category — it “bumped” a greater share of passengers off overbooked flights through involuntary denied boardings.
Overall, however, Delta jumped two places from its No. 6 position last year. A year before that it was 7th.
The airline industry had better on-time performance in 2012 than in 2011 overall, but still saw an increase in consumer complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation. United Airlines accounted for a significant portion of the complaints amid its merger with Continental.
All told, Airline Quality Rating co-author Dean Headley of Wichita State said the past two years are still the best in the ranking’s 23-year history.
“Can they do better? You bet,” Headley said. But, he added, “We’re in a good period.”
AirTran performed worse in denied boardings and customer complaints, but better in on-time performance and baggage handling.
Southwest, meanwhile, consistently has the lowest rate of customer complaints. It improved its on-time and baggage performance in 2012, but bumped more passengers from its flights than the previous year.
Airline Quality Rating: How the largest U.S. airlines measured up
1. Virgin America
9. US Airways
11. American Eagle