Air travel: Late flights are up, complaints down

DALLAS (AP) — Airlines are falling behind schedule more
often and mishandling more bags, but customers aren’t making a federal
case out of it.
Academics who study the airline industry say that
consumer complaints to the government dropped 15 percent last year after
spiking in 2012.
The researchers will detail their conclusions in a report Monday. Among their findings:
— United Airlines climbed out of last place in the rate of customer complaints.
— American Airlines did better at staying on schedule last year than it did in 2012, when it accused
pilots of a work slowdown.

Most of the worst grades — from late flights and lost bags to bumping
passengers off planes — were earned by smaller regional airlines.
Researchers
at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
compiled the report on airline quality from figures that the 15 largest
airlines must report each month to the U.S. Department of
Transportation. They graded the airlines on four categories:
ON-TIME
PERFORMANCE: Airlines operated 78.4 percent of their flights on time in
2013, down from 81.8 percent in 2012. Best: Hawaiian Airlines; worst:
American Eagle.
BAG HANDLING: The rate of lost, stolen or delayed bags rose 5 percent. Best: Virgin America; worst:
American Eagle.
BUMPING: The rate of bumping passengers from flights fell 8 percent. Best: JetBlue Airways; worst:
SkyWest.
COMPLAINTS:
Consumer complaints to the government in 2013 dropped 15 percent from
2012 after rising 20 percent the year before. Best: Southwest Airlines;
worst: Frontier.
One of the report’s authors, Wichita State
business professor Dean Headley, credited the drop in complaints partly
to United Airlines. The company suffered several computer-network
outages and grounded hundreds of flights in 2012 when it combined the
United and Continental computer networks after a merger, but "got their
act together" in 2013, he said.
Headley said the drop in
complaints might also reflect "a certain amount of resignation" that
"it’s never wonderful for airline passengers."
No matter how much
people gripe about airlines when they’re among friends, very few of the
millions of fliers ever bother to file a complaint with the government.
The Department of Transportation, or DOT, received 9,684 complaints last
year after getting 11,447 in 2012.
Chris Lopinto, CEO of
ExpertFlyer.com and not involved in the academic report, said he
believes that most consumers complain directly to the airlines instead.
"The
DOT can’t comp you miles or comp you a voucher — only the airlines can
do that," Lopinto said. "A passenger might not think to file with DOT."
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Contact David Koenig at http://www.twitter.com/airlinewriter

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