Flying In The U.S. Sucks More Than Ever, Study Finds

The 2015 Airline Quality Rating study shows 2014 was a year of more delays, lost bags, and headaches for U.S. air travelers.

For anyone who flew in 2014, the results of the year's Air Quality Rating study, out today from Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, may not come as too much of a shock: air travel in the U.S. is getting worse, with no signs of a turnaround in sight.

"With AQR performance factors in a state of overall decline, it is easy to understand why passengers and many of the airline employees they encounter are not happy and are significantly frustrated," Brent Bowen, an Embry-Riddle professor and the study's coauthor said in a statement accompanying the study results' release Monday.

"With the high profits being realized by airlines, it is evident they are not investing in customer service and restoring employee concessions given up during the economic decline. The airlines have a duty to maximize service to the American public given the trust we provided them through a very low regulatory environment."

The study, now in its 25th year, measures the quality of U.S. air travel in four different categories: on-time, involuntary denied boardings (bumping), mishandled baggage, and customer complaints. The U.S. airline industry's average quality performance rankings declined in all four categories this year over last year, and the overall industry score fell to levels not seen since 2009.

Specifically, the average on-time arrival percentage fell from 78.4% in 2013 to 76.2% last year, and the industry mishandled bag report rate jumped from 3.21 to 3.62 per 1,000 passengers in the same time frame.

The data, when broken out by airline, shows that only three U.S. carriers showed improvement in their overall performance scores: Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America all earning higher quality ratings in at least one of the four categories in 2014 over the year prior. The airlines with the lowest overall quality ratings were Envoy/Am Eagle, ExpressJet, and SkyWest.

Weather was undoubtedly a factor in at least one category: on-time arrivals. January was the worst month of 2014 for air travelers trying to make it to their destinations on time, with just a 67% industry of on-time arrival average. Not surprisingly, the first quarter of last year showed the highest amount of involuntary denied boardings, or passengers that were bumped from their oversold flights.

The most common areas of the 11,364 registered U.S. airline customer complaints last year regarded flight problems, baggage, reservations, ticketing, and boarding, and customer service.

"When you look at the past 14 years, you find that the airline industry performs most efficiently when the system isn't stressed by high passenger volume and high number of airplanes in the air," Wichita State professor Dean Headley, the reports other coauthor, said in the statement.

"With continued capacity limits and consolidation, one would hope that a less congested system would perform better. We did not see that in 2014. The challenge is whether airline performance quality improvements at this level can be maintained as more people choose to fly. Does the infrastructure and air traffic control technology limit what the airlines can actually do?"