Top Stories
Top Stories
Airlines

US airline service soars to record high amid less complaints, fewer passengers bumped off

Key Points
  • The Airline Quality Rating measures airline service in four areas: on-time arrivals, percentage of bags mishandled, the number of passengers bumped from flights and complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
  • This year's report shows carriers improved their overall performance compared to 2017.
  • However, the study fails to track complaints posted on social media platforms, which have become a popular way for many travelers to voice their displeasure with airlines.
A Delta Air Lines jet taxis beyond parked Southwest Airlines planes at McCarran International Airport September 12, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller| Getty Images

For all the griping and grousing you may hear about flying these days, a new report says the quality of airline service in the U.S. soared to a record high in 2018.

The annual Airline Quality Rating, which measures airline service in four areas, shows carriers improved their overall performance compared to 2017.

"It is the best year we ever had," said Dean Headley, professor emeritus at Wichita State University. "Three out of the four things that we track got better this year, so I would have to say it is doing well."

Headley, along with Brent Bowen from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, created the Airline Quality Rating in 1991 as a way to measure airline service based on four categories tracked by the U.S. Department of Transportation. Those categories — on-time arrivals, percentage of bags mishandled, the number of passengers bumped from flights and complaints filed with the DOT — are reported every month.

Two areas in particular stand out in this year's report. Complaints about airlines to the DOT dropped 23 percent, while the number of passengers bumped from oversold flights was cut in half. Following the controversy of a United Airlines passenger being dragged off of a plane in April 2017, U.S. carriers either abandoned or curtailed the number of flights they oversold.

Headley is not surprised airlines are now bumping fewer travelers. "That is encouraging for the flying public, I think," he said.

So which airlines topped the list in terms of service?

Delta jumped from second place to first, just ahead of JetBlue and Southwest Airlines. By comparison, Spirit, American and Frontier came in at the bottom of the latest Airline Quality Rating.

While the numbers are encouraging, the Airline Quality Rating fails to track complaints posted on Twitter or other social media platforms. That's become a popular way for many travelers to voice their displeasure with airlines for a variety of issues, from being bumped off a flight to losing a suitcase.

Headley acknowledges the inability to track social media complaints, but believes the study still shows flying in the U.S. is improving.

"The complaints that people might file tell us whether they are happy or not, and those complaints are down this year," said Headley.