Great Again: New National Study Finds Airline Travel Great, Alaska Tops the Annual Ranking

The average airfare for a domestic U.S. flight has come down 8% compared to last year from $344 to $316.


The airlines have done great in the latest Airline Quality Rating. One of the authors of the annual report and associate professor at Wichita State University, Dean Headley said, “Without a doubt 2016 was a very good year for the airlines.”

Headley, along with the co-author, Brent Bowen of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, has been generating this report for the past 27 years; they track the performance of airlines, and their report is considered the benchmark of the industry. They use data collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation to calculate how airlines have improved from previous years and how they are doing compared to each other.

The report for the year 2016 saw the greatest numbers even in critical areas like denied boarding and baggage handling.

Mr. Headley explained the change in the following words:

“A big reason why we saw fewer travelers bumped from flights is because the leaders of these airlines have changed their philosophy in recent years. They no longer have the attitude that bumping a passenger is okay because there’s not another customer around the corner.”

Another indicator that airlines are performing better is the number of mishandled bags; it is at an all-time low. The basic reason for this improvement is the use of latest technology like luggage tags with FRID chips, which top airlines are using to make tracking easier.

Last but not the least, the number of complaints to the Department of Transportation is also down, including those about airfares.

Mr. Headley said that this is proof that Americans are noticing the change in dropping prices. He added that the average airfare for a domestic U.S. flight has come down 8% compared to last year from $344 to $316.

After analyzing the factors and indicators studied in the report, he ranked 12 largest U.S. airlines with Alaska topping the table.

Here are the rankings (the number in bracket shows ranking for 2015):

  1. Alaska Airlines (5th in 2015)
  2. Delta Air Lines (3)
  3. Virgin America (1)
  4. JetBlue Airways (2)
  5. Hawaiian Airlines (4)
  6. Southwest Airlines (6)
  7. SkyWest (7)
  8. United Airlines (8)
  9. American Airlines (10)
  10. ExpressJet (9)
  11. Spirit Airlines (13)
  12. Frontier (11)

Please note that the 2015 ranking had 13 airlines; Envoy Air was not ranked in 2016.