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Beyond the headlines: Putting airline performance in perspective

May 17, 2017
Airliner takes off

Two recent airline mishaps that generated major national media coverage — United Airlines dragging a paying customer off a flight, and an American Airlines flight attendant getting suspended after going nose to nose with a passenger — might have some travelers thinking U.S. air carriers are in crisis. Think again. If we are to keep these isolated events in perspective, it requires staying focused on some key facts. Every day, more than 20,000 flights take off and land without incident in the United States, with more than 2.2 million passengers aboard. Those statistics come from the Federal Aviation Administration.

What’s more, a study conducted annually by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Wichita State University produces an Airline Quality Rating report that measures industry performance in areas including on-time arrivals, mishandled baggage, involuntary denied boardings and consumer complaints. The organization’s most recent report, issued in April, says the airline industry produced its highest score in the rating’s 26-year history. Why? Because marked improvements were seen in all four of these key areas between 2015 and 2016. To wit:

>> A higher percentage of on-time departures and arrivals
>> Fewer pieces of luggage were lost or damaged
>> Fewer consumers filed complaints
>> Fewer people were involuntarily denied boarding

Indeed, fewer than one passenger out of every 10,000 is denied boarding, due to overbooking, failure to comply with the carrier’s dress code, or any other reason.

Additionally, J.D. Power’s most recent North America Airline Satisfaction Study, released May 2016, reports that customer satisfaction reached a record high of 726 out of 1,000.

J.D. Power executive Rick Garlick, who leads the organization’s global travel and hospitality practice, wrote: “Airlines are making positive strides by adding value to its products and services with newer and cleaner planes, better in-flight services, improving on-time arrivals and bumping fewer passengers from their flights.”

Most airline travelers have also noticed that lost luggage, a common occurrence years ago, has become rare because airlines implemented a technology called small radio frequency identification devices (RFIDs), embedded in luggage tags at a cost of just pennies per passenger, gives airlines the ability to scan and track luggage on conveyor belts, immediately alerting baggage handlers when a bag is headed to the wrong plane.

The success rate is 99 percent, saving airlines millions of dollars per year and saving passengers delays and frustration.

Times are good for airline travelers. We trust that has been the experience for the vast majority of our guests, but you tell us. Click here to share thoughts on your own airline experiences.