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Airlines Delivered Baggage, Disappointed Customers in 2011

The Department of Transportation’s (DOT) airline performance report is in, and the results could make you feel more at ease the next time you have to check a bag. Trade group Airlines for America (A4A) reports that in 2011, U.S. carriers smashed their previous performance records to bits, losing fewer bags and bumping fewer passengers than ever before.

Enter the superlatives. In 2011, the DOT recorded the lowest levels of mishandled bag and bumped passengers, says A4A. An impressive 99.7 percent of passengers received their bags in a timely fashion, and the number of passengers bumped in 2011 dropped 5 percent over the previous year. Now is certainly the appropriate time for airlines to amp up their baggage handling skills, as passengers pay for the privilege to check luggage on most major U.S. carriers.

Furthermore, in 2011, the airlines had their most successful fourth-quarter on-time arrival record. Early winter weather conditions took it easy on holiday flyers last year, and airlines saw a sharp decrease in delayed and canceled flights in December.

But not every 2011 performance measurement was record-breaking. The airlines’ annual on-time arrival record held steady at around 80 percent, which matches rates for the previous two years. The carriers that were on time the most in 2011 include AirTran, Hawaii, and Delta. Those with the lowest on-time performance record for last year are Frontier, ExpressJet, and Continental.

So the airlines deserve a gold star for the most part, right? We’re not so sure. According to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), complaints about airline service increased year-over-year, from 10,988 complaints issued in 2010 to 11,545 complaints made last year—a jump of about 5 percent.

While carriers were getting their planes to the gate on time and successfully transferring baggage, other factors, such as customer service or communication, were floundering. The BTS has yet to offer numbers on cranky flight attendants or in-air angst caused by dinner plate-size seats, but the volume of complaints says enough.

Do you think the airlines did a good job in 2011?

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