Hawaiian, JetBlue top latest airline quality rankings

You probably don’t need an objective study to tell you that the quality of airline service is getting worse. But, for those in search of hard evidence, USA TODAY writes that “the overall performance of U.S. airlines worsened in 2006, its third consecutive year of decline, according to the 17th annual Airline Quality Ratings (AQR) released … Monday. Its performance fell in three of the four categories measured by the study: on-time arrival, involuntary bumping and mishandled luggage. The customer complaint rate was flat.”

The report also looked at individual airlines. Who was the top-rated carrier? That would be Hawaiian Airlines, which knocked JetBlue out of the top spot for the first time in four years. The study included 18 airlines, though this is the first time it considered Hawaiian big enough to be included. However, AQR co-author Brent Bowen of the University of Nebraska-Omaha tells USA TODAY that Hawaiian has “distinct advantages” over larger competitors. He notes Hawaiian operates a relatively small number of flights to mostly fair weather destinations. “It is somewhat of an anomaly to compare it to other carriers,” he tells the paper.

So, who rounded out the rest of the airline’s rankings? JetBlue finished second, followed by AirTran, Frontier and Northwest. Southwest and Continental –- two airlines that routinely win awards for being the best airlines of their types -– finished sixth and seventh, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, the five worst-rated airlines were Delta-affiliate Atlantic Southeast (No. 18), American affiliate American Eagle (No. 17), Delta affiliate Comair (No. 16), regional giant Mesa (No. 15) and regional carrier SkyWest (No. 14).

USA TODAY notes that “of the 18 rated airlines, only Northwest and US Airways improved from 2005. Northwest spent much of 2006 restructuring its operations to emerge from bankruptcy and the efforts may have paid off, [co-author Dean Headley of Wichita State University] says. It was the only airline that had improved in all four categories.” But, Headley adds: “They’ve been trying to get their act together. Maybe they did. The question is ‘will it continue next year?”

As for US Airways, USA TODAY writes that its “improvement may have been influenced by its merger with America West, which has been one of the top performers in the past, Bowen says. But US Airways, which has been consistently ranked among the worst network carriers in the past years, also moved up partly because it couldn’t fall much further, he says. Ranked 13th, it was still the worst performing network carrier in 2006.” One interesting finding in the study: Independence Air was the only of last year’s top airlines to fall out of the rankings. Rated No. 3 in the 2006 AQR ratings, Independence Air ceased operations early last year after running out of money.

For the year 2006, the here are the Top Ten U.S. airlines ranked for overall quality:

1. Hawaiian Airlines

2. Jet Blue

3. AirTran

4. Frontier

5. Northwest

6. Southwest

7. Continental

8. United

9. Alaska

10. American


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