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Airline Quality Ratings 

Top Rated Airlines in the United States

Before booking a flight, it is important to look beyond the price tag to research an airline’s customer service records, compensation policies, and quality ratings. This research will allow travelers to make informed decisions about travel. The 18th Annual National Airline Quality Ratings study is one place to look for information on which airlines provide the best service, which airlines are improving and which airlines are declining.

Air Tran has taken the top spot in the 18th annual national Airline Quality Ratings (AQR) study. Last year, Air Tran ranked third in the AQR. Following Air Tran in the top five of the AQR were Jet Blue, Southwest, Northwest and Frontier. As far as an overall rating for the industry, this is the worst AQR score ever, according to the AQR researchers. The second worst was for calendar year 2000.

There are similarities between 2000 and 2007, specifically:
-During both 2000 and 2007 there was talk of the United States heading into a recession
-The airlines were making money after a nonprofitable period
-Demand for air travel was strong.
The AQR is a summary of month-by-month quality ratings for the largest domestic U.S. airlines operating during 2007.  Researchers Brent Bowen, professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) Aviation Institute/School of Public Administration, and Dean Headley, associate professor and chair of marketing at Wichita State University (WSU), used 15 elements important to consumers when judging the quality of airline service.
Air Tran gained ground in the industry and in the ratings because of superior baggage handling. As an entire industry, airlines declined in all areas of performance, Bowen said. 

“I don’t expect to see better airline performance in the near future. There’s no incentive,” Headley said.  “The airlines are losing money. Fuel prices are high. They’re cutting back on services. They’re cutting back on people. Everything it takes to run an airline is more expensive, and the airlines want less of that expense.”

Sixteen airlines were studied for the 2008 ratings report.  The Airline Report Card is a unique figure that shows each airlines' individual rating since the AQR began 18 years ago. This visual aid offers invaluable historical reporting opportunities, Bowen said.  It is available on-line at AQR

Researchers at the UNO Aviation Institute and the W. Frank Barton School of Business at WSU conduct the ratings annually. The AQR, as an industry standard, provides consumers and industry watchers a means to compare quality among airlines using objective performance-based data. It is a joint research project funded as part of faculty research activities at UNO and WSU.

"With the U.S. airline industry at rock-bottom in terms of overall performance, greater accountability is necessary.  It is very difficult for air travel consumers to have a collective voice,” Bowen said.  “The research team is providing new mechanisms for the everyday passenger to be heard.”  
Air travelers can make a difference through participating in the AQR research survey, the first of several new tools to aid the traveling public.  Go to AQR and click on the ‘survey’ link.  By participating, travelers will have access to AQR's future airline service problem reporting feature. This will also help researchers gather valuable data that may help slow the substantial decline in airline service performance that they reported this year.

The AQR scores for the largest airlines for 2007:
1.     Air Tran
2.     Jet Blue
3.     Southwest
4.     Northwest
5.     Frontier
6.     Continental
7.     Alaska
8.     United
9.     American
10.   Delta
11.   US Airways
12.   Mesa
13.   SkyWest
14.   Comair
15.   American Eagle
16.   Atlantic Southeast

Criteria included in the AQR must meet two requirements:
1. Data must be obtainable from published sources for each airline
2. Data must be important to consumers regarding airline quality.

The resulting criteria include areas such as baggage handling, customer complaints, denied boardings and on-time arrivals.

Other major industry findings in this year’s research study include:

Only four of the 16 airlines improved their AQR score. They were Air Tran, American Eagle, Atlantic Southeast and Mesa. The most improved airline was Mesa; it improved in three of the four categories — denied boardings, mishandled bags and customer complaints. Its on-time performance was similar to last year.
The airline that declined the most in performance was US Airways.

For more information visit AQR.

Source: AQR
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