Best airlines in America

Annual Airline Quality Ratings (AQR) report. The study evaluates the performance of America’s 12 largest airlines based on a series of factors including on-time performance, denied boardings, mishandled baggage, and customer complaints.

The airline industry, as a whole, has shown improvement over the past year. Mishandled baggage, involuntary denied boardings, and consumer complaints are all down significantly since 2015. At the same time, on-time performance has improved from 79.9% in 2015 to 81.4% in 2016.

“The best-ever overall industry AQR score is largely due to best-ever performance in the rate of involuntary denied boardings and the rate of mishandled bags,” the report’s co-author Wichita State University associate professor Dean Headley said in a release. “Air travel is great again – that statement can be followed with a period, exclamation point or question mark depending on the individual’s perspective.”

However, the study also shows that 2016 was an up and down year for some airline carriers. Nine of the 12 airlines featured in the study saw their ratings improve while traditional industry leaders JetBlue, Virgin America, and Hawaiian saw their rating take a slight dip.


10. ExpressJet

ExpressJet operates regional flights on behalf of American, Delta, and United Airlines. Even though the airline’s on-time performance increased to 79.8%, it’s rate of denied boardings is the highest on the list.

9. American Airlines

Even though American’s on-time performance dipped to 79.4% in 2016, the airline showed improvement in the three other criteria on which the carrier is judged.

8. United Airlines

In spite of recent events, United made significant performance improvements in 2016. On-time percentage improved from 78.2% in 2015 to 81.7%. In addition, the number of involuntary denied boarding fell to 0.43 per 10,000 passengers from 0.77, which is below the industry average of 0.62. In addition, the number of mishandled baggage and customer complaints also fell.

7. Skywest

SkyWest operates regional flights on behalf of Alaska, American, Delta, and United Airlines. Skywest made significant improvements on all four major criteria.

6. Southwest

Southwest boasts the lowest rate of consumer complaints of the 12 airlines covered in the study. Overall, the airline improved in all four criteria.

5. Hawaiian

Hawaiian boasts the best on-time performance in the study at 91.1%. In addition, it also has the fewest denied boarding at 0.05 per 10,000 passengers. However, the airline slipped both in terms of the number of customer complaints and mishandled bags.

4. JetBlue

JetBlue show improvement in the number of mishandled bags and customer complaints. However, the airline on-time performance and its number of denied boardings suffered in 2016. It’s 75% on-time performance is the second worst on the list.

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3. Virgin America

Virgin America, now a part of Alaska Air, saw its numbers slip in three of the four criteria. Only its number of denied boarding did not fall.

2. Delta

Delta showed improvements in all four criteria. It’s denied boarding rate of 0.10 per 10,000 passengers is the second best on the list.

1. Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines saw its on-time performance increase to 87.3% and the number of customer complaints hold idle. However, a 50% drop in the number of mishandled bags put the airline over the top.

“These results provide a rare insight into the airline merger arena. We have a carrier, Alaska, that wanted to improve performance, began improvement plans before any merger announcement, and is currently taking over the top performer, Virgin America. Going from fifth to first is rare, but a devoted corporate resolve can make that happen,” said study co-researcher Brent Bowen, dean of College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Ariz., campus in a statement.