Virgin America Soars Above The Rest In Annual Airline Survey While United Sinks To The Bottom

Every day, airlines shuttle passengers from here to there, through friendly (and not so friendly) skies, ferrying bags and losing luggage and touching down at airports all around the country. Some of those airlines are consistently a cut above the rest, while others just can’t seem to do anything right. According to this year’s Airline Quality Rating Survey, Virgin America is the cream of the crop while United Airlines is a long, long way from the top.

Forgive us the rhyming but read on to see the highlights of who’s doing (almost) everything right, according to the 23rd annual survey conducted by Wichita State and Purdue University. You can also click here to download the entire report.

THE GOOD
Virgin America: This is the first time that Virgin America was included in the survey, but it did well in its rookie year. Above-average on-time performance, the second-best rate for denied boardings, fewer than average customer complaints, and the lowest rate of mishandled bags, all led to Virgin taking the top spot in the survey.

JetBlue: The airline showed improvements in all four categories, and its denied boarding rate remained the lowest of all the carriers in the survey. Overall, JetBlue had the second-highest total score.

Southwest: Once again Southwest had the lowest rate of customer complaints in the industry, though its rate of denied boardings did increase between 2011 and 2012. But that wasn’t enough to have any significant impact on the airline’s overall rating.

US Airways: This carrier, which is set to merge with American, actually demonstrated the second-best rate of improvement in its overall score. It also showed improvement in all four categories — on-time performance, denied boardings, mishandled baggage, and customer complaints.

THE SO-SO
American Airlines: Though the study found AA’s on-time arrival rating had worsened from 77.8% in 2011 to 76.9% in 2012 in 2012, and customer complaints were up from 1.46 complaints per 100,000 passengers to 1.80, the airline’s improved performance in the categories of denied boardings and mishandled baggage were enough to increase AA’s overall score in 2012.

Delta: With better year-over-year scores in three of four categories — on-time performance; mishandled bags; customer complaints — Delta saw the third-highest margin of improvement among all airlines. The only category in which it slipped was denied boardings.

THE UGLY
United: On-time arrivals dropped from 80.2% to 77.4% between 2011 and 2012. At the same time, United’s rate for mishandled bags increased from 3.66 per 1,000 passengers to 3.87. Denied boarding was also up noticeably, from 1.01 per 100,000 passengers to 1.83. So it’s no surprise that the rate of customer complaints nearly doubled from 2.21 per 100,000 passengers to 4.24. All of these negatives resulted in United receiving the lowest score of all 14 airlines in the survey.