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Airlines Quality Improved in 2011, Study Finds

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A recent study led by two American professors found U.S. airlines to have improved in overall customer service in 2011, news sources reported Monday. Led by Brent Bowen, a professor of aviation technology at Purdue University, and Dean Hedley, a professor of marketing at Wichita State University, the research project’s conclusions came at a time where passengers on airlines have increasingly been experiencing troubles with service in recent months, as delays, lost bags, and flight crew issues have been on the rise.

The researchers looked at several basic flight quality metrics, including the number of bags lost and flights delayed, and found that airlines generally did a better job of appeasing passengers in 2011 than in previous years. Using information from the U.S. Department of Transportation on fifteen of the largest U.S airlines–AirTran, Alaska, American, American Eagle, Atlantic Southeast, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Mesa, SkyWest, Southwest, United and US Airways—the study gave 2011 the highest airline quality grade in twenty-one years. The research project was a privately funded and directed venture.

“As an industry, performance in 2011 was the best in the 21 year history of the Airline Quality Rating,” the authors wrote. “Of the 15 carriers rated in both 2010 and 2011, ten carriers improved in Airline Quality Rating scores.”

In terms of consumer complaints, passenger bumps (instances where fliers are denied a spot on a plane due to over-speculation on behalf of the airline), baggage problems, and delays, the statistics showed that 2011 had been an improvement from the previous year.

Complaint rates fell from 1.22 to 1.9 per 100,000 people, and passenger bumps from 1.08 to .78 out of 10,000; Baggage issues dropped from 3.49 to 3.35 out of 1,000 passengers, and airline punctuality increased from 79.8 to 80 percent of all flights in 2011.

While airlines were generally lauded for their improvement following publication of the findings, and 2011 characterized as the “best year ever” in the industry, specific airlines were showered with less praise. Frontier was the airline that improved most among the fifteen in the study, but Continental fared the worst overall in terms of customer service between 2010 and 2011.

Baggage handling, in particular, was best performed by AirTran; American Eagle scored the worst with that particular metric. Southwest Airlines had the greatest success in satisfying its customers, while United Airlines received the most complaints.

Considering that four years ago the airline industry was at an all-time low, the recent findings signify a tremendous turnaround.

“Everything is heading in the right direction,” Headley said, according to CNN News.
AirTran topped the list, generally; American Eagle bottomed.

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