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Ranking the Airlines

From on-time flights to lost bags, new airline quality survey shows who's hot and who's not

Virgin America airplane
Virgin America earned first place in the Airline Quality Index. Photo courtesy of Virgin America

A delayed flight or lost bag can really put a damper on travel. To keep airlines accountable and passengers informed, the Airline Quality Index outlines the best and worst flying experiences. For the second year in a row, Virgin America earned the index's No. 1 ranking.

Using weighted data for on-time flights, overbooked passengers, lost bags and complaints, the Airline Quality Index has been compiled annually since 1991. This year, however, marked an important milestone.

"The Airline Quality Rating score for 2013 was the best industry score for all of the 23-year history," the researchers said.

 "Southwest shows poorer performance for 2013 and was the only airline to show decline in all four areas rated," the researchers said.

While the overall ratings improved, two key areas declined for the airline industry as a whole: on-time arrival percentage and lost bags. On the plus side, overbooked flights and customer complaints decreased from 2012 to 2013.

Virgin America's top ranking is credited to on-time flights (82 percent) and a rate of less than one lost bag per 1,000 passengers. The industry average for lost bags is more than three times higher than Virgin America's figure. Virgin's customer complaint rate, however, is higher than most of its competitors. 

This comes just days after Virgin America announced it is expanding service to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport meaning locals can expect even more from the celebrated carrier.

JetBlue earned second place on the index, buoyed by the lowest customer complaint and overbooked flight rates of all airlines. On-time flights are the weak link at JetBlue, where only 74 percent of planes take off as scheduled. 

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines came in at No. 8, just behind US Airways and a slot ahead of neighboring American Airlines. Southwest has been on the decline since 2007, when it earned a No. 3 ranking on the index. Since then, it has dropped from the fifth, sixth and seventh slots.

Southwest's on-time flights decreased from 83 percent in 2012 to 77 percent in 2013; its lost bags, customer complaints and overbooked flights all increased from last year.

"Overall, Southwest shows poorer performance for 2013 and was the only airline to show decline in all four areas rated," the researchers said.

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