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Which Airline Ranked the Best in 2010?

southwest airlines, airtran

This low cost carrier was ranked the best in quality in 2010. Who knew?

Southwest Airlines had the fewest number of passenger complaints in 2010 compared to the 16 major airlines in the U.S., but it still doesn’t rank as air carrier with the best quality, according to a study.

Things won’t likely turn around this year, either.

After Southwest Airlines flights were canceled this weekend when inspectors found cracks in at least three of their jets (not to mention the emergency landing of one which lost part of its fuselage skin in flight), it’s possible the low-cost airline’s No. 1 ranking in fewest customer complaints will plunge on the list and send more passengers over to the overall best airline, another low cost carrier:

AirTran.

According to a study sponsored by Purdue University in Indiana and Wichita State University in Kansas, AirTran knocked the previous King of Airline Quality — Hawaiian Airlines — into second place.

Dead last was American Eagle, who had the highest rate of mishandled bags — 7.15 for every 1,000 passengers.

Overall in the industry, customer complaints were up. Researchers aren’t sure why, but changes in how airlines are doing business likely influenced the numbers. For example, airlines rely now, more than ever, on overbooking flights in order to turn a profit. That means a higher frequency of paid customers who showed up on time getting bumped.

Some good flight news, however: The amount of time passengers have to wait on the tarmac has reduced dramatically. Researchers say that a hefty fine on airlines for holding passengers in the cabins when not in flight likely improved that nightmare of air travel.

Here are the airlines in order of most to fewest number of complaints per 1,000 fliers, from [MSNBC]:

—Delta Airlines, 2

—United, 1.64

—US Airways, 1.53

—Continental, 1.48

—American, 1.44

—Comair, 1.25

—JetBlue, 1.25

—Frontier, 1.23

—Hawaiian, 1.16

—American Eagle, 1.03

—AirTran, 0.90

—Skywest, 0.61

—Atlantic Southeast, 0.54

—Mesa, 0.53

—Alaska, 0.44

—Southwest, 0.27

The results of this study matter to families, who aren’t only worried about safety but also about price and flight time. To be stranded on the tarmac for hours with a limited amount of snacks, diapers and patience is something no parent wants to anticipate, much less experience. But being bumped is just as awful. Already waiting at the airport for 2 hours before the flight is enough to undo the whole family, but then to be told there’s another one in five hours? One shudders to think. Missing bags were part of this quality study; Who wants to buy baby a new wardrobe that he’ll outgrow?

I’ve always kind of avoided AirTran, assuming that it was in the pack with the worst, not the best. Now, I’ll definitely reconsider. I walked away from Southwest Airlines ages ago, but not due to safety considerations.

Which carrier is your family’s favorite?

Photo: creativecommons.org

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