Airline Performance in 2012 Second Best Ever, Virgin America new No. 1
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Airline performance in 2012 was the second highest in 23 years that researchers have tracked the performance of airlines. Passengers are experiencing better performance by the airlines, although it might cost more to fly.

The performance of the nation's leading carriers in 2012 was nearly identical to the best year ever in 2011, according to the 23rd annual national Airline Quality Rating.

The rankings show that of the 14 carriers rated for performance in both 2011 and 2012, seven airlines improved, five airlines declined and two are new to the rankings, including the overall No. 1 performing airline, Virgin America.

The Airline Quality Rating is a joint research project funded as part of faculty research activities at Wichita State University and Purdue University.

The industry improved in two of the four elements of the AQR: on-time performance and baggage handling. Involuntary denied boardings and the customer complaint rate were higher in 2012.

Below is the 2013 numerical ranking of the nation's leading 14 airlines, according to the Airline Quality Rating, with the 2012 ranking in parentheses:

  1. Virgin America (new to the ranking this year)
  2. JetBlue (3)
  3. AirTran (1)
  4. Delta (6)
  5. Hawaiian (2)
  6. Alaska (5)
  7. Frontier (4)
  8. Southwest (7)
  9. US Airways (8)
  10. American (10)
  11. American Eagle (155)
  12. SkyWest (9)
  13. ExpressJet (not rated in 2011)
  14. United (12)
On-time Performance

Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance (93.4 percent) for 2012, and ExpressJet and American had the worst (76.9 percent).

Eight airlines improved their on-time arrival performance in 2012. Nine of the 14 airlines rated had an on-time arrival percentage of better than 80 percent. On-time for the industry in 2012 was 81.8 percent compared to 80.0 percent in 2011.

Consumer Complaints

Southwest again had the lowest consumer complaint rate (0.25 per 100,000 passengers) of all airlines. United had the highest consumer complaint rate (4.24 per 100,000 passengers) of all airlines rated.

Customer complaints per 100,000 passengers increased from 1.19 in 2011 to 1.43 in 2012. The majority of complaints were for flight problems (32.7 percent), reservations, ticketing and boarding (14.6 percent), customer service (14.3 percent) and baggage (12.4 percent).