Last updated: 11:30 AM ET, Tue April 05 2016

Airlines Are Performing Better, So Why Are More Fliers Complaining?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | April 05, 2016

Airlines Are Performing Better, So Why Are More Fliers Complaining?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The 2016 Airline Quality Rating report was released on Monday. The results were somewhat surprising because they showed a disconnect between the overall performance of airlines in key categories and the number of complaints lodged by fliers.

The ratings were compiled by experts from Wichita State University’s W. Frank Barton School of Business and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. The report has been published annually for the past 26 years and has become one of the more respected measurements of how well the industry is performing as a whole and also how well individual airlines are performing compared to one another.

Airlines better in key categories in 2015

The data used in the report came from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s monthly Air Travel Report. These numbers led the Airline Quality Rating to paint a bright picture of airline performance in 2015. The industry overall improved in three major categories.

Airlines were better than previous years when it came to on-time performance, baggage handling and overbooking. More flights departed and arrived on time (within 15 minutes of the scheduled time), fewer bags were lost and there were fewer instances of people not being able to board a flight because of overbooking.

The data paints a rosy picture

Some of these improvements were significant. The industry as a whole mishandled (lost, damaged or delayed) 3.24 bags per 1,000 fliers. The previous year’s figure was 3.62 per 1,000. Regional carriers Envoy and ExpressJet were the worst at handling baggage, losing 8.52 and 5.06 bags per thousand, respectively.

READ MORE: The Best Airport in The World for 2016 Is...

For every 10,000 passengers, only 0.76 lost their seat because of overbooking. That was down from 0.96 in 2014. Meanwhile, on-time percentages rose from 76.2 percent in 2014 to 79.9 percent last year. This was mainly because of the improved performance of major airlines like Delta, Southwest and United.

The most complaints in the past 15 years

Even though performance was better in all three of these key areas, the number of complaints was up significantly in 2015. There were 1.9 complaints per 100,000 fliers. Not only is that figure worse than it was in 2014, it constitutes the highest number of complaints since 2001.

Why is this happening?

Low-cost carriers have struggled with customer service over the past year. Frontier and Spirit had well-documented problems with lapses in customer service in 2015. It also might be valid to say that the rise in the number of complaints corresponds to the rise of fee-heavy low cost carriers. Or perhaps complaints are up because people simply think that airlines just need to do better when it comes to being flier-friendly.

A .pdf of the 2016 Airline Quality Rating report is available here. 


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