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Wichita State Report Rating Major Airlines Says Air Travel Is Improving … Really

A Delta Airlines Boeing 777
Delta Airlines
A Delta Airlines Boeing 777

It’s easy to complain about air travel, but the latest Airline Quality Rating study shows, overall, it’s getting better for passengers.

The 29th annual Airline Quality Rating produced by researchers at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University tracks key airline metrics such as on-time arrivals and departures, baggage handling and customer complaints.

Overall, the report found that airlines performed better in 2018 in three of the four factors tracked, but slipped in the most important category: on-time performance.

The report also shows that airlines bumped passengers less frequently than in any year since the study started. That's likely due to the backlash from the highly publicized bumping of a man who had to be physically dragged off a United Airlines flight in 2017.

“If the public says something, the airlines just might do something,” said Dean Headley, emeritus professor at Wichita State and co-author of the study. “Which they did in this case, and that made a big difference in this year’s numbers.”

With almost 25,000 flights a day in the United States, Headley said it’s amazing that airlines have an on-time rate of 80%, don't lose many bags and involuntarily bumped virtually no one in 2018.

It’s a much better performance now than it was a little more than 10 years ago.

As for individual airline performance, Delta came out on top. It accomplished that by having the fewest number of involuntary removals, finishing second for on-time arrivals and third in both baggage service and customer satisfaction.

The complete rankings are:

  1. Delta Airlines
  2. JetBlue
  3. Southwest Airlines
  4. Alaska Airlines
  5. Hawaiian Airlines
  6. United Airlines
  7. Spirit Airlines
  8. American Airlines
  9. Frontier Airlines

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for KMUW in Wichita and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio, KCUR and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. Follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Brian Grimmett is a two-time Regional Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist covering energy and environment stories across the state of Kansas.