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Delta ranks third in airline quality ranking

Delta Air Lines ranked third in an annual airline quality ranking, coming in behind Virgin America in the top spot and JetBlue in the No. 2 position.

It's the second year in a row Atlanta-based Delta took the No. 3 spot in the Annual Quality Rating report issued by researchers at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The report released Monday aggregates on-time rates, baggage handling, denied boarding rates and complaint rates in 2015 into a score for each airline.

The report putting stylish Virgin America at the top spot happened to come on the same day that Alaska Airlines announced it has reached a deal to buy Virgin America for $2.6 billion in cash. The deal joins together two airlines with a big presence on the West Coast. Alaska Airlines ranked fifth in the Airline Quality Rating.

In Atlanta, Delta is by far the largest carrier, with its largest hub at Hartsfield-Jackson.

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is the second-largest carrier in Atlanta. Southwest came in at the No. 6 spot in the Airline Quality Rating.

Overall, the airline industry improved its performance slightly, according to the report.

Airline mergers "produced some operating gains for the airlines, but customer perceptions of poor outcomes are still reflected in a higher number of customer complaints for the year,” said Wichita State University associate professor of marketing Dean Headley and a researcher who produces the report, in a written statement.

Complaint rates "clearly show that the air traveling public is not happy," said Brent Bowen, co-researcher and dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott, Ariz. campus, in a written statement. "The human element of air travel is obviously deteriorating, and passengers are fed up."

Congestion from the growth in airline passenger traffic is also driving some of the problems, they said.

Delta improved its on-time rates, baggage handling and denied boarding performance in 2015 compared with 2014, but it had a slight increase in the rate of customer complaints. Southwest improved in all four areas.

Ranking of airlines based on 2015 performance, with the 2014 ranking in parentheses:

Source: Airline Quality Rating

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About the Author

Business reporter Kelly Yamanouchi covers airlines and the airport.