The 2014 Airline Quality Rating, a joint undertaking by professors at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical and Wichita State universities, was published this week with its annual review and rankings of U.S. airlines’ performance during the previous year.
The study incorporates 15 elements in four areas of airline performance: mishandled bags, on-time arrivals, denied boardings, and customer complaints. The report synthesizes data compiled by the DOT for its monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, and assigns U.S. airlines a higher or lower AQR (Airline Quality Rating) accordingly.
For 2013, the winners and losers, from best to worst, are as follows:
- Virgin America
- Endeavor Air
- US Airways
- American Eagle
Looking into performance in specific areas yields a mixed picture. On the positive side, consumer complaints were down overall, from 1.43 complaints per 1,000 passengers in 2012 to 1.13 complaints in 2013. That’s in spite of the fact that mishandled baggage rates were up, from 3.07 bags per 1,000 passengers in 2012 to 3.21 bags in 2013, and on-time arrivals dropped from 81.8 percent in 2012 to 78.4 percent in 2013.
While the study has the look and feel of rigorous quantitative analysis, and the authors go to considerable lengths to tout its supposed objectivity, there’s a fundamentally subjective set of choices at its core. The various factors are weighted according to the opinions of a panel of “airline experts,” whose perceptions may or may not accord with those of the traveling public. For example, the study overweights on-time performance and underweights customer complaints.
In the end, after perusing the numbers and percentages and rankings, many travelers will find themselves wondering what it all means to them. It’s a good question. The DOT data on which the study is based are limited to what the Department can readily capture and quantify. And the survey’s weighting system adds at least as much uncertainty to the endeavor as it adds to its relevance.
This is a case where anecdotal water cooler rants and raves may be more informative — and certainly more interesting — than a pseudo-scientific report.
Reader Reality Check
How do these quality ratings compare with your own experience of the ranked airlines?
This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.