Low-fare carriers fill the top tier of a recent survey--industry performance declines overall, but more bodies are in the seats.
Posted Apr 4, 2005
Jet Blue ranked first, for the second year in a row, in the 15th annual Airline Quality Rating study. The AQR, a joint effort by Dean Headley of Wichita State University and Brent Bowen of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, ranks the 16 largest U.S. airlines in on-time arrivals, baggage handling, denied boardings, and customer complaints. Overall, four of the top-five rated airlines are low-fare carriers, with AirTran, Southwest, and Alaska trailing Jet Blue. United Airlines, ranked fourth, was the only major carrier to make the top five.
The complete ranking places Jet Blue first, followed by AirTran, Southwest, United, Alaska, America West, Northwest, American, Continental, ATA, Delta, US Airways, American Eagle, SkyWest, COMAIR and Atlantic Southeast.
The study indicated that on-time performance and customer complaints were both markedly worse in the past year. "For 2004...on-time performance was a decline, by as much as 4 percentage points," Headley says. "The other most noticeable decline came in customer complaints." The rate of customer complaints increased by as much as 27 percent.
Although a 27 percent increase in complaints isn't normally something to applaud, the statistic does point toward a return of business to the beleaguered carriers. "Customer complaints were an increase this year of about 27 percent over last year, so more people were complaining," Headley says. "That runs somewhat together with the idea that passenger volumes are returning to the pre-9/11 time that we had. So the more complex the system, the more problems we have with people getting their needs met--consequently, we're getting more complaints, and we should see that as the ridership continues to grow."
Growth or no, airline performance dipped overall versus 2003's numbers. According to the study, of the 14 carriers rated in both 2003 and 2004, only Air Tran, Atlantic Southeast, Jet Blue, and United show improvement in their overall AQR scores for 2004. The most improved airline was Atlantic Southeast, while US Airways suffered the largest rating decline; Southwest Airlines' score, the report states, was "virtually unchanged." Two new airlines, Comair and SkyWest, are included in this year's AQR.
Trends to be aware of in air travel include the increasing power of budget carriers and an expected overall increase in ticket prices. "The [airline travel] system is coming back to full capacity," Headley says, "and during the lull that we've had the last few years there have been a lot of airlines that have taken advantage of that, particularly the low-fare carriers. They had a five to seven percent market share back in 2000 and 1999, now they're twenty-five percent." Headley also indicates crude oil prices will be "a big factor for the airlines," noting that fuel is an airline's second largest cost. If oil prices continue to rise, Headley says, "there's not much of a way that airline tickets won't be going up."
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