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Virgin America Takes Top Spot in Airline Customer Service Ranking, United Hits Bottom

April 10, 2013

Which is the worst airline in the U.S.? While you undoubtedly have your own opinion, Wichita State University in Kansas and Purdue University in Indiana have been tracking the customer service performance of airlines for the past 23 years. This year's report identifies United Airlines, which saw the number of customer complaints double last year, as the poorest performer.

This is being attributed, at least in part, to the bumpy process of integrating United with Continental Airlines through last year's merger.

The Wichita State and Purdue report ranked the 14 largest U.S. airlines based on on-time arrivals, mishandled bags, consumer complaints and passengers who bought tickets but were turned away because flights were over booked, according to the Associated Press. Virgin America, Richard Branson's U.S. airline venture, came out on the top of the ranking with the best customer service. Virgin America, which was launched in 2007 but only this year is large enough to be included in the ranking, did the best job on baggage handling and had the second-lowest rate of passengers denied seats due to over-bookings.

The good news, according to the ranking (and this may be a surprise to regular travelers) is that the airline industry is doing better than ever before when it comes to customer service. (You can stop laughing now.)

"Over the 20-some year history we've looked at it, this is still the best time of airline performance we've ever seen," said Dean Headley, a business professor at Wichita State University in Kansas, who co-wrote the annual report. In fact, performance is down only a tic from 2011, the best year for airline performance in the history of the study.

The report seems to contradict statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The number of complaints consumers filed with that agency rose by one-fifth last year to 11,445 complaints, up from 9,414 in 2011.

The national Airline Quality Rating is the premier statistical study of major airline performance in the United States. The AQR is conducted jointly by Dr. Dean Headley, professor at Wichita State University and Dr. Brent Bowen, professor at Purdue University.

Edited by Braden Becker