Among airlines serving Tampa International Airport, JetBlue did the best job of flying customers last year. United Airlines was the worst.
Ratings at both AirTran and Southwest, which have merged and now represent a 40 percent market share at TIA, slipped slightly in 2012. So says the 23rd annual Airline Quality Rating (AQR) survey, which ranks airlines based on U.S. Department of Transportation data. It is assembled by industry experts at Purdue University and Wichita State.
The ratings are based on each airline's on-time arrivals, frequency of bounced passengers, mishandled baggage, and 12 customer complaint categories.
Overall, airline performance in 2012 was the second highest in the 23 years researchers have tracked airline performance.
This year's survey found improved on-time arrivals and fewer mishandled bags — due in part to airlines flying fewer (but more crowded) planes and a decline in volume of checked baggage because of rising luggage fees.
On the flip side, the incidence of bumped passengers got worse in 2012, a result of deliberate overbooking of flights, say the survey authors.
Notably, customer complaints rose on several fronts.
"Passengers get squeezed again as airlines shrink seats even as the American public gets bigger and wider," said co-author and Wichita State marketing professor Dean Headley. "There's bound to be a spot in there" when passenger size and airline seating "don't match."
Nationwide, Virgin America enjoyed the top rating for flying passengers. Virgin does not fly out of TIA, though airport marketers are still keen to recruit the airline.
Here's a peek at how some of TIA's bigger airlines rated:
• Southwest's on-time arrivals improved to 83.1 percent in 2012 while customer complaints were an industry low.
• Delta's on-time arrivals improved to 86.5 percent in 2012, pushing its overall ranking to No. 4 from No. 6.
• United, which now includes Continental, saw its on-time arrivals decline in 2012. Worse, United suffered the highest customer complaint rate in 2012 of 4.24 per 100,000 passengers.
How bad is that? Industrywide, customer complaints per 100,000 passengers increased to just 1.43 in 2012 from 1.19 in 2011.
• US Airways improved in all four performance areas, jumping it to No. 11 from No. 15 in 2011.
• American Airlines' AQR score for 2012 also improved, though it suffered a decline in on-time arrival performance and an uptick in customer complaints.
• AirTran Airways slipped to No. 3 in 2012 from No. 1 in 2011. While its on-time performance and baggage handling improved in 2012 , it bumped more passengers and saw an uptick in its customer complaint rates in 2012 from 2011.
• JetBlue Airways was tops among major airlines at TIA, though it represents a small portion of the airport's flights. On-time performance improved and it was least likely to bump passengers. Of 14 airlines rated, it was second in quality to Virgin America.
In all, most of the 11,445 complaints last year against domestic carriers involved woes over flights, reservations, ticketing and boarding, or customer service.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected]