Airline Ratings – The Best Airlines and Worst Airlines in September

If you’re overwhelmed with the idea of digging through airline ratings, but are still determined to see which carriers provide the best airlines and worst airlines, you’ve come to the right place.

airline-ratings-best-airlines-worst-airlinesThe good news for consumers: Airline ratings for on-time performance are improving, while complaints are falling. The bad news: Integration challenges and growing pains are creating turbulence for what traditionally has been one of the best airlines.

The top 16 U.S. airlines posted an average on-time rate of just under 84% in September, according to the Transportation Department’s (DOT) most recent report. That’s a step up from the airlines rating recorded the month and year before.

Airlines also dramatically reduced tarmac delays in September. For the month, there were only two tarmac delays of more than three hours on domestic flights. Plus, overall consumer complaints also fell, despite high complaints at some of the worst airlines. The total of 1,008 complaints about airline service from consumers was a 7% drop year-over-year and 24% drop month-over-month.

Meanwhile, airline ratings didn’t budge for mishandled bags, as the rate held steady year-over-year.

Here’s a breakdown of those airline ratings, with rankings for the best airlines and worst airlines as measured by on-time flights, mishandled baggage and consumer complaints:

Best Airlines for On-Time Performance:

  1. airline-ratings-best-airlines-worst-airlinesHawaiian Airlines (HA) — 95.5%. After a decade of topping the list of best airlines for on-time performance, it would be news if Hawaiian Airlines didn’t win the top honors for this particular measure of airline ratings. Hawaiian Airline not only bested its peers again in September, but it beat the second-place winner for on-time best airlines by more than five percentage points. Then again, it’s easier to keep the planes running on time in balmy weather and at less hectic airports than it is at Chicago’s O’Hare or New York’s JFK.
  2. Delta Air Lines — 90.3%. For a legacy hub-and-spoke carrier to crack the 90% threshold for the on-time airline ratings is a significant win. After all, carriers like Delta Air Lines (DAL) have sophisticated networks and a heavy presence at larger, more congested airports. DAL, which was one of the worst airlines for on-time performance in 2010, has transformed itself in this critically important metric for airline ratings.
  3. Endeavor Air (formerly Pinnacle Airlines) — 88.8%. Endeavor, which operates as Delta Connection, has begun to flourish since it came under DAL’s wing. Delta acquired Pinnacle from bankruptcy earlier this year, making it a wholly owned subsidiary. It subsequently invested $52 million in the feeder carrier and changed the name. Feeder carriers are seldom the best airlines for performance, but Endeavor’s rising airline ratings are positioning the unit to soar.

Other Airline Ratings:

  • US Airways (LCC) — 88.3%
  • Alaska Airlines (ALK) — 87.6%
  • AirTran Airways, a unit of Southwest (LUV) — 86.8%

Worst Airlines for On-Time Performance:

  1. airline-ratings-best-airlines-worst-airlinesSouthwest Airlines — 76.3%. This is not typically one of the worst airlines for on-time airline ratings. Still, the ranking isn’t as surprising when we consider that Southwest Airlines has struggled as its integration efforts with AirTran ramp up. Remember, United was one of the worst airlines for performance last year as its integration efforts with Continental reached their peak.
  2. Frontier Airlines  76.9%. Frontier is one of the worst airlines for two reasons: First, feeder carriers face greater challenges generally speaking than their legacy or low-cost carrier competitors. And second, the airline has been working through the bankruptcy process. Improved airline rankings could be on the horizon, however, now that private Indigo Partners is buying the carrier for a reported $36 million plus assumed debt.
  3. American Eagle Airlines — 82.2%. This American Airlines (AAMRQ) feeder subsidiary has been one of the worst airlines for on-time performance for years. Even before American declared bankruptcy in November 2011, American Eagle struggled in this key metric for airline ratings.  But now that American Airlines has been cleared to emerge from bankruptcy by merging with U.S. Airways, look for positive change for this carrier’s airline ratings. 

Other Airline Ratings:

  • JetBlue (JBLU) — 83.1%.
  • American Airlines — 83.7%
  • United Airlines — 84.6%.

Best Airlines for Mishandled Bags:

  1. airline-ratings-best-airlines-worst-airlinesVirgin America — 0.71 reports per 1,000 passengers. Virgin America topped the list of best airlines for handling bags, boasting the lowest rate of lost or mishandled bags in September. Its results for this metric of airline ratings handily outpaced the industry average of 2.70 bags per 1,000 passengers.
  2. JetBlue — 1.67 reports per 1,000 passengers. Although JetBlue’s result for this metric of airline ratings was more than double that of Virgin America, it’s still one of the best airlines out there. Plus, its most recent numbers are an improvement over the 1.73 it posted in September of 2012.
  3. Delta — 1.68 reports per 1,000 passengers. DAL continues to do well in managing baggage — well enough to take the bronze for the best airlines in this category. But the number for this metric of airline ratings did inch above September 2012’s rate of 1.67 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. 

Other Airline Ratings:

  • US Airways — 2.12 reports per 1,000 passengers.
  • American Airlines — 2.43 reports per 1,000 passengers.
  • Hawaiian Airlines — 2.43 reports per 1,000 passengers.

Worst Airlines for Mishandled Bags:

  1. airline-ratings-best-airlines-worst-airlinesSkyWest Airlines — 4.90 reports per 1,000 passengers. Once again, feeder carriers usually have worse airline ratings and higher mishandled bag stats because of delays and challenging connections with legacy carriers. But SkyWest’s September performance made it the worst of the airlines, as mishandled bags increased from the 4.76 reports per 1,000 passengers it reported a year earlier.
  2. American Eagle — 4.40 reports per 1,000 passengers. Although it’s hardly good in the world of airline ratings, American Eagle’s metric is still better than the 5.55 reports per 1,000 passengers the airline reported a year earlier.
  3. AirTran — 4.00 bags per 1,000 passengers. The fact that AirTran is one of the worst airlines for bags may be a shocker, given AirTran’s rating near the top of the list last September with only 1.48 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. But airline integration causes all sorts of short-term hiccups, as the airline ratings show.

Other Airline Ratings:

  • ExpressJet — 3.75 reports per 1,000 passengers.
  • Southwest — 3.30 reports per 1,000 passengers.
  • United Airlines — 5.14 reports per 1,000 passengers.

Best Airlines for Customer Complaints:

  1. airline-ratings-best-airlines-worst-airlinesSouthwest — 35 total complaints, 0.39 per 100,000 enplanements. The airline ratings make one thing clear: Passengers still love LUV. In fact, it’s one of the best airlines for its stellar customer satisfaction over the years. Of course, the next few months likely will continue to test passengers’ patience as the integration with AirTran moves forward.
  2. ExpressJet Airlines — 11 total complaints, 0.40 per 100,000 enplanements. This a great metric of airline ratings for a regional airline to grab … and a huge improvement over last year’s 1.35 rate per 100,000 enplanements. One reason ExpressJet was able to become of the best airlines for customer satisfaction:The SkyWest subsidiary has been working to boost its value proposition in an environment that does not favor airlines that fly 50-seat jets.
  3. Alaska Airlines — 7 total complaints, 0.45 per 100,000 enplanements.  The airline’s strong, consistent on-time performance airline ratings have kept passengers happy.

Other Airline Ratings:

  • Delta — 46 total complaints, 0.47 per 100,000 enplanements.
  • Endeavor Air — 6 total complaints, 0.59 per 100,000 enplanements.
  • AirTran — 8 total complaints, 0.65 per 100,000 enplanements.
  • Hawaiian Airlines — 6 total complaints, 0.77 per 100,000 enplanements.
  • JetBlue — 14 total complaints, 0.78 per 100,000 enplanements.

Worst Airlines for Customer Complaints:

  1. airline-ratings-best-airlines-worst-airlinesFrontier — 24 total complaints, 2.76 per 100,000 enplanements. It’s not surprising that a carrier that has been working its way through bankruptcy would be one of the worst airlines for complaints. Although the Indigo Partners acquisition bodes well for better performance over the long haul, the group has not yet worked through contract issues with the airline’s flight attendants, which could prolong the worse airline ratings for complaints.
  2. United Airlines — 124 total complaints, 1.76 per 100,000 enplanements. The good news is that complaints have fallen dramatically from the nearly 1,000 the airline reported in July 2012.  Of course, that came in the midst of multiple computer glitches that bedeviled airline operations and cost the carrier a lot of goodwill. Perception usually outlasts performance improvements when it comes to airline ratings, but I do see this metric moving UAL’s way soon.
  3. American Airlines — 115 total complaints, 1.73 per 100,000 enplanements. This metric for airline ratings is also not really a surprise. American is one of the worst airlines complaint-wise since the carrier has been in bankruptcy protection for the past two years.

Other Airline Ratings:

  • US Airways — 63 total complaints, 1.47 per 100,000 enplanements.
  • Virgin America — 6 total complaints, 1.22 per 100,000 enplanements.
  • SkyWest — 25 total complaints, 1.16 per 100,000 enplanements
  • American Eagle — 16 total complaints, 1.12 per 100,000 enplanements.

As of this writing, Susan J. Aluise did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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