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What are the Best Airlines to Fly? The Devil is in the Data

A study analyzes government stats to find the truths behind airline promises

January 14, 2020

When you decide to buy an airline ticket, a number of factors go into the decision, however, it is mostly about price, dates and destination. However, other considerations may play into these decisions, such as how many complaints and airline gets, it’s record for on time performance and not forgetting mishandled bags.

For those who want to get the skinny on an airline before pressing the “book it” button, Upgraded Points.  an air travel watchdog site, recently released an analysis of U.S. government-reported data concerning airlines with the best and worst customer service.

For purposes of the study, available data from November 2018 through August 2019 was used from air travel consumer reports compiled by the U.S. government. The analysis utilized monthly averages as well as per capita data for the 10-month period. Only results for commercial U.S. airlines were tabulated.

The results?

Airlines with the highest percentage of on-time arrivals: The top three U.S. carriers with the best percentage of on-time arrivals were Hawaiian Airlines (86.5 percent), Delta (82.4 percent) and Endeavor Air (81.9 percent).

Airlines with the lowest percentage of on-time arrivals: The carrier with the worst record was ExpressJet (70 percent), followed by Frontier and JetBlue (both of which have just 72 percent on-time arrivals).

Airlines with the highest percentage of canceled flights: Express Jets leads in this category (4.7 percent of their flights were canceled), with Envoy Air (3.8 percent) and Mesa Airlines (3.1 percent) close behind.

Airlines with the lowest percentage of canceled flights: Delta Airlines has the best record of fewest flights canceled (0.2 percent), followed by Hawaiian Airlines (0.4 percent) and Allegiant Air (0.5 percent).

Airlines with the most mishandled baggage: This study looked at two types of data for diverted, lost, damaged or delayed baggage – the average number of bags mishandled per 1,000 handled and the total number of mishandled bags. Overall, Envoy Air had the highest average number of bags per 1,000 mishandled (8.7 per 1,000), while Allegiant Air (2.0 per 1,000) and Frontier Airlines (2.9 per 1,000) had the lowest. In terms of the total number of mishandled bags, Southwest Airlines had the worst record (49,191) and second-worst was American Airlines (47,243 mishandled bags).

Categorization of customer complaints by airline: This data analysis presented both the total complaints/month per 10,000 passengers as well as the total complaints reported for the 10-month period of November 2018 to August 2019. The results indicated that the airlines with the most complaints involved Frontier Airlines, Frontier Airlines (27/10,000 490 total), Spirit Airlines (27/10,000 771 total) and American Airlines (17/10,000 passengers and 1,571 total complaints.

Airlines with the fewest number of complaints included Skywest Airlines (5/10,000 passengers and 153 total), Endeavor Air (4/10,000 36 total) and Southwest Airlines (3/10,000 passengers and 473 complaints total).

Complaint categories and airlines: The final area covered in this data study concerned airline rankings for each type of complaint. In the area of flight problems, Republic Airways led the group with 87.1 percent of all complaints registered in that category, 26.8 percent of all baggage-related issues were reported for Sun Country Airlines, while 22.5 percent of all issues involving disabled passengers were reported for Allegiant Air.