Taking a domestic flight on one of the 12 commercial carriers in the U.S. is an experience rife with delays, rudely-handled luggage and oversold bookings. This is the conclusion of the Airline Quality Rating (AQR) report, a publication based on the findings of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona and Wichita State University in Wichita, Kansas.
The 25th annual edition of this publication was released today, and it draws upon data from the Air Travel Consumer Report, released monthly by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The four criteria used to evaluate each airline’s ranking are on-time performance, mishandled baggage reports, customer complaints and involuntarily denied boardings, known to long-suffering travelers as “getting bumped.”
Virgin America fared the best in the report. Although its 81.5% on-time performance rate represented a small decline from its 2013 rate of 82.1%, it did the best of any airline in all three other areas and even outperformed the industry average.
Now for the bad news. Here are the airlines that took the bottom five spots on the AQR report.
5. Frontier Airlines
Frontier is a budget airline with one-way fares for as little as $19 a pop, including flights from Cleveland to Atlanta and Denver to Las Vegas. In 2014 it showed as many improvements to its 2013 performance as regressions.
Its on-time performance in 2014 was 74.1%, compared with 73.1% in 2013. The mishandled baggage rate improved as well. Unfortunately, these gains were inhibited by increases in its customer complaint rate and number of bumped passengers.
4. United Airlines
According to the Star Alliance Network, United is the world’s largest airline, with 5,314 daily departures, 369 airports served and 140 million passengers served annually. When you’re that big, flaws are probably inevitable, and the AQR report was only too happy to list them.
United showed a decline in its on-time performance rate from 79.3% to 76%. The rate of customer complaints increased, as did the rate of mishandled baggage. The one area that didn’t show decline was the rate of involuntary denied boardings, which stayed the same as it was in 2013.
3. SkyWest Airlines
In the AQR report released last year, SkyWest was rated the third-worst airline in the industry. This year, they held on to the same spot, so give them points for consistency.
A closer inspection of the numbers shows that while the mishandled baggage rate improved, performance dropped in all other areas. Worst of all was the rate of involuntary denied boardings, which exceeded the industry average.
ExpressJet appeared in newspaper headlines in 2013 when one of its planes, operating as a United Express flight, had its tail clipped by a Scandinavian Airlines Airbus A330 at Newark Airport. Nobody was hurt, but the airline’s second-to-last place ranking in the AQR report might leave a mark.
On-time performance dropped to 70.8% from 72.8%, and both the mishandled baggage rate and denied boardings rate were worse than the year before. The customer complaint rate was better than the industry average, but still represented a decline for the carrier over the previous year.
1. Envoy / American Eagle
Envoy / American Eagle showed improvement to its rate of customer complaints over the previous year. Other than that, the AQR report left the carrier little to smile about.
Its denied boarding rate increased and its on-time performance rate dropped, which is bad enough, but the AQR report went on to describe the mishandled baggage rate as “noticeably worse” than the year before, which was itself worse than the industry average.
The airline came in last place in the previous AQR report, so there’s no further down that it could sink in terms of ranking. However, its decline from -1.95 in 2013 to -2.83 in 2014 represents the single largest drop of any airline in 2014.
Daniel Bukszpan is a New York-based freelance writer.