Most airlines see ratings fall for 2006

Most of us have a gut feeling that the airline industry is still on the downswing as far as customers are concerned. Now there's proof. USA Today has reported a third straight year of decline in the Airline Quality Ratings. The ratings, now in their 17th year, show that 16 of 18 U.S. carriers saw performance fall, and three of four categories showed worse industrywide numbers than in 2005.

The airlines were rated for on-time arrival, involuntary bumping, mishandled luggage, and customer complaints. Only the last of these saw no decline (complaint levels stayed about the same). At the top of the list was Hawaiian Airlines, which according to one of the study's authors, Brent Bowen, is not surprising considering the airline's "small number of flights to fair weather destinations." Perennial customer favorite JetBlue managed to sneak into second place, despite its winter woes. Other top performers included Southwest, with a customer complaint rate of just 0.18 per 100,000 passengers, and fellow low-cost carriers AirTran and Frontier. Northwest followed right behind, which is notable both because it improved in all four categories during a restructuring year.

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One hopes this is just the darkness before the dawn, but while there is ample discussion about a Passenger Bill of Rights, it remains to be seen whether that will come to pass. Without such a measure, can we expect anything but more of the same?

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