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Report: Airlines not adapting well to increased passenger traffic

Pieter van Marion
Flickr Creative Commons
Southwest Airlines was rated first for airline quality in the annual Airline Quality Report.

The report found that the number of domestic airline travelers rose by 83% in 2021 from 2020.

Airlines are struggling with increased passenger volume following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the annualAirline Quality Report by Wichita State University.

The report found that the number of domestic airline travelers rose by 83% in 2021 from 2020. But fewer planes arrived on time last year, more flights were overbooked and more bags were lost.

“So anytime the system has higher demand or volume, performance goes down,” researcher Dean Headley said. “Not illogical, but it's unfortunate.

“So when the system is taxed with volume and demand for passenger opportunity, the airlines just don't really step up.”

The report found that complaints dropped dramatically from 2020 but were still higher than average, with most complaints concerning refunds or flight issues.

“It's not going to be good for several years simply because the airlines just can't get back to where they want to be or where they were, say in 2018,” Headley said. “ … just not going to happen.”

That’s because it’s going to take some time to address the main issues airlines are struggling with: staffing and plane inventory shortages. The staffing problems include a lack of pilots.

“Say, ‘Well, you have this whole regional system, aren’t there a bunch of pilots here that want to move up to the big boys, to the major leagues?’ Well, yeah, but most of them don’t have the hours or the training,” Headley said.

“It takes two, three years to get that and train, so the problems that we’re having, I don’t see solving for the next two, three years.”

The report ranks the nation’s 10 largest airlines based on lost bags; on-time performance; involuntary denied boardings, and consumer complaints.

1. Southwest (1)*

2. Hawaiian (9)

3. Delta (3)

4. Allegiant (2)

5. Alaska (4)

6. United (8)

7. Frontier (10)

8. JetBlue (6)

9. American (7)

10. Spirit (5)

*2020 ranking in parentheses

Kylie Cameron (she/her) is a general assignment reporter for KMUW. Before KMUW, Kylie was a digital producer at KWCH, and served as editor in chief of The Sunflower at Wichita State. You can follow her on Twitter @bykyliecameron.