Study: Airline Performance Declined in 2014

Virgin America Plane

After achieving their best performance ever in 2013, U.S. airlines slipped in 2014, according to the results of the latest Airline Quality Rating (AQR) study, published today by Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

The annual AQR study analyzes data from the U.S. Transportation Department in order to score U.S. airlines in four key operational areas: on-time performance, baggage handling, denied boarding, and customer complaints. Scores in all four areas declined last year, according to the study, which shows that:

• Airlines were on time 76.2 percent of the time in 2014, down from 78.4 percent in 2013.
• Airlines had 0.92 denied boardings in 2014, up from 0.89 in 2013.
• Airlines mishandled 3.62 bags per 1,000 passengers in 2014, up from 3.21 in 2013.
• Customer complaints per 100,000 passengers increased from 1.13 in 2013 to 1.38 in 2014.

Researchers blamed declining performance largely on industry consolidation.

"Airline mergers and consolidations are taking a systemic toll that is bad for consumers," said study co-researcher Brent Bowen, dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott, AZ, campus. "Performance by the airlines is slipping while they claimed this would make them better."

Another factor hurting airline performance is infrastructure.

"With continued capacity limits and consolidation, one would hope that a less congested system would perform better. We did not see that in 2014," said Dean Headley, associate professor of marketing at the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University. "The challenge is whether airline performance quality improvements at this level can be maintained as more people choose to fly. Does the infrastructure and air traffic control technology limit what the airlines can actually do?"

Of the 12 U.S. airlines ranked, Virgin America scored highest overall for the third year in a row, followed by Hawaiian Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

In the area of on-time performance, Hawaiian Airlines scored highest with an on-time performance of 91.9 percent. Envoy/American Eagle scored the lowest, with an on-time performance of 68.8 percent.

The best airline for baggage handling was Virgin America, with only 0.95 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. The worst was Envoy/American Eagle, with 9.02 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers.

Virgin America had the lowest involuntary denied boarding rate, at 0.09 per 10,000 passengers, while ExpressJet and SkyWest had the highest, at 2.71 per 10,000 passengers.

Finally, Alaska Airlines had the fewest number of customer complaints, with 0.42 per 100,000 passengers. Frontier Airlines had the most, with 3.91 per 100,000 passengers.

Overall, the nation's 12 leading airlines were ranked as follows (their 2013 ranking appears in parentheses):

1. Virgin America (1)
2. Hawaiian (3)
3. Delta (4)
4. JetBlue (2)
5. Alaska (5)
6. Southwest (8) (includes AirTran)
7. American (9) (includes US Airways)
8. Frontier (11)
9. United (12) (includes Continental)
10. SkyWest (14)
11. ExpressJet (13)
12. Envoy/American Eagle (15)

For more information about the AQR report, including the full study with details on each airline, visit

For a recap of recent top stories, check out MeetingNews Minute: