Report Ranks Domestic Airlines

April 07, 2014

(Photo by Peter O'Dowd-KJZZ)
American Airlines and US Airways have merged but are ranked separately in the report.

A new report ranks airlines in the U.S.

A report released Monday ranks quality scores from domestic airlines. Researchers from Prescott’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Wichita State University publish a report every year.

The rankings are based on the previous year’s data. Since Tempe-based U.S. Airways and American Airlines officially merged in December 2013, they are ranked separately in the report.

U.S. Airways improved by two spots from 2012 to seventh-best. American Airlines improved by one to ninth-best.

Brent Bowen is the Dean of Embry-Riddle’s College of Aviation. He said he predicts the merged airline will not perform at higher levels.

“I can tell you every example of large-scale mergers in the airlines, the new combined airline gets worse for a number of years,” Bowen said. “Some recover, like Delta. Some don’t recover, like United.”

Wichita State University’s Dean Headley said he expects the new American Airlines to hover near the center of their rankings in future years.

“I would venture to guess that American will bog down to the middle of that 15-airline pack that we have there right now,” Headley said. “Historically, large airlines typically don’t combine well and they don’t perform at the highest levels.”

Ratings are based on factors such as customer complaints, delayed flights and baggage handling.

Southwest Airlines and AirTran Airways are another example of two airlines in the process of merging. Southwest is ranked eighth, the same position it held in the last report. AirTran was the biggest loser in this year’s report, dropping from third to tenth.

Bowen said the Southwest-AirTrain merger will be more difficult because of the difference in structure between the two airlines.

“Southwest is changing its entire business model for the acquisition of AirTrain,” Bowen said. “Southwest was founded on having high-frequency point-to-point service, not a hub-and-spoke system. They were founded on the premise of having one uniform aircraft that only required one type of technical training. Now they’re acquiring AirTran, which has a totally different fleet of aircraft and a hub-and-spoke type system.”

Hub-and-spoke systems are common among most airlines. They involve having central hubs from which most of an airlines flights depart.

Virgin America is ranked as the highest-quality airline for the second year in a row. American Eagle Airlines, which has since rebranded as Envoy, ranked at the bottom of the list.