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Report on airlines lists worst among equals

While all the data isn’t in, this past summer may go down in the annals of aviation history as the worst ever, prompting the government and consumer groups to demand improvements, or else.

But exactly how bad was it? And which airlines were the worst?

In what could turn out to be a preview of the summer’s results, Forbes summarized the July figures for flight delays, cancellations, and mishandled bags as reported in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Report. Forbes also compiled average on-time performance from July 2006 to July 2007. (July is the most recent month for which data is available.)

Based on the combinations of metrics used by Forbes, the 10 worst airlines, with number one being the lowest of the low, are as follows:

1. Atlantic Southeast
2. Comair (a division of Delta Air Lines)
3. American Eagle (a division of American Airlines)
4. Mesa
5. Expressjet
6. US Airways
7. American
8. United
9. Delta
10. Alaska

Note that the first five are feeder or regional carriers, and therefore fly far fewer passengers than larger airlines. So while they performed the worst, their underperformance affected fewer travelers.

In sixth through tenth place, however, are carriers which are among the country’s largest, and whose service lapses are widely felt.

American, the world’s largest airline by some measures, is the second worst of the major carriers, behind US Airways and ahead of United and Delta.

It would be comforting to think that if your usual airline scored among the worst performers, you’d at least have the option of choosing an alternative. You know: Vote with your pocketbook. But with American, Delta, and United all ranked high on the lists of both the largest and the worst airlines, many travelers will be hard pressed to find convenient alternatives with appreciably better service levels.

So until the situation improves, it’ll be less about voting with your pocketbook and more about keeping a stiff upper lip.

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