Virgin America remains at the top of the annual airline quality report released earlier this week, with JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines trailing close behind.
Delta came in fourth for the second year in a row, despite scientific data that proves declining performance when two large carriers merge (Delta merged with Northwest in 2008).
The survey, compiled by researchers for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Wichita State University, evaluated the 15 biggest carriers in the U.S. based on performance markers such as on-time flights and mishandled bags, and the airline industry hit its highest point in 24 years despite a decline in those areas.
Airlines bale to invest more in systems and personnel due to larger profits, and that leads to more satisfied passengers, according to the report’s co-author Brent Bowen, who is the dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Arizona campus.
“It’s a combination of giving more priority to customer service…and the fact that airlines have returned to a level of acceptable profitability,” Bowen told USA Today.
Southwest, long-heralded for its steady profits and high consumer scores but also saw declining performance in mishandled baggage and on-time performance, hovered in the eighth spot. Frontier, US Airways and American Eagle saw declining performances as well.
How did your favorite airline stack up?
2013 Airline Quality Rankings (2012 rankings in parentheses)
- Virgin America (1)
- JetBlue (2)
- Hawaiian (5)
- Delta (4)
- Alaska (6)
- Endeavor (new to the rankings this year, formerly Pinnacle)
- US Airways
- Southwest (8)
- American (10)
- AirTran (3)
- Frontier (7)
- United (14)
- ExpressJet (13)
- SkyWest (12)
- American Eagle (11)
“Gotcha” fees are everywhere, lurking in the corners, waiting to snatch your money at any unsuspecting moment.
Take codesharing: where an airline pretends flights are its own, but they actually belong to a different carrier.
Want to fly to Barcelona? Well, if your airline of choice is American, which doesn’t fly to there, you’ll actually be flying with British Airways – and charged $98 per ticket if want to sit with your companions, or risk a random seating assignment – even in Business Class, which, at those prices, is supposed to come with “everything.”
It’s a deceptive fee, especially for families traveling together who have no choice but to pay up or sit far away from their small children. Gate attendants allow passengers with little ones to board early, so why not extend that same courtesy to seat assignments?
And government regulators are no help, referring this method as “drip” pricing. But consumer advocates like Christopher Elliot use more accurate terminology: the bait-and-switch.
So, where exactly are these fees hidden? Elliot explains:
In plain view. Clever companies don’t bother concealing their “restrictions” because they know customers don’t take the time to read the fine print. Even with full disclosure on the front page of a company’s Web site, customers are still surprised in the end.
After the purchase begins. Another example of the bait-and-switch, and travel companies are notorious for it. Have you even booked a room with a mandatory resort fee? The good news is the Federal Trade Commission recently cracked down on hotels that engage in these practices, but more needs to be done. If you price the price of your product rising after you start the booking process, cancel it. It’ll send a message to companies that these practices won’t be tolerated.
In the fine print. Most fees are hidden in tiny print at the bottom of the page, where nobody reads. Even the best companies have fine print, but a customer-friendly includes it to protect both the buyer and seller. A deceptive company, however, likes to add print in the contract solely to earn more money, and you’ll find they’re ruthless when enforcing it.
It looks like mobile cell phones are on their way to becoming a reality.
Despite the heated discussions in travel blogs, airlines announcing that they’d never allow wireless chatter in the cabins and a Quinnipiac University poll declaring that 59 percent of Americans are against it, mobile phones on commercial flights will eventually come to the United States, as it has already started in the rest of the civilized world.
Good etiquette in the interior of an aircraft is already in short supply, consumer advocate Christopher Elliot wrote in USA Today. Since when is a plane a yak-free zone like a library or church?
So, what else is banned from commercial flights that shouldn’t be?
Bottled water: The water available after the security checkpoint is always overpriced. And, sure, you can easily take an empty water bottle with you and fill it with tap water later.
So those are your only options? A $3 bottle of Aquafina or tap water that may taste a little funky?
The European Union is testing a liquid scanner that would allow passengers to carry drinks through its checkpoints. It’s unlikely that the TSA will officially ease its liquid restrictions in the U.S. anytime soon, but the agency has reportedly gotten a little lax lately with the liquid and gel restrictions, often missing large cups of yogurt, soft drinks and water bottles.
Pets: Most air travelers are forced to leave their beloved cats, dogs and birds at home, as most animals are not permitted in the main cabin. But to the delight of the affluent animal owner, pet-travel fees are one of the few unexploited areas for airline fees. For example, US Airways charges $125 each way to carry on a small domestic dog, cat or bird. But, what’s stopping an airline from loosening its size and weight restrictions if that means more revenue?
Knives: Pocket knives are essentially no more dangerous than a ballpoint pen, knitting needles and cutlery. Why single out small knives?
The TSA continues to prohibit knives in carry-on luggage, except for plastic or round-bladed butter knives. It announced last year that it would permit knives on board that it would permit knives on board, but retracted after flight attendants’ unions, consumer advocates and law enforcement officials raised objections to the proposed rules, claiming knives will make air travel less safe. Never mind that other parts of the world don’t consider pocket knives a threat to aviation safety.
FYI: Some other objects not allowed on a plane
-Scissors with blades longer than 4 inches
-Drills and drill bits