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Which airlines at TIA do people like and which ones not so much? This will tell you

Here's news to cheer: Amid a striking surge in U.S. traveler complaints against the airline industry, the airline that handles more than a third of all passengers in and out of Tampa International Airport not only keeps its arrivals reasonably on time but also suffers relatively few consumer complaints overall.

Southwest Airlines, with a nearly 36 percent market share at TIA, faced only 89 consumer complaints systemwide in June, according to the most recent Air Travel Consumer Report on airlines released by the U.S. Department of Transportation. In fact, the top three airlines at TIA fared well, with Southwest, Delta and US Airways enjoying good on-time arrival times and low numbers of consumer complaints. And JetBlue, No. 6 in TIA market share, enjoyed the best arrival time rate — nearly 84 percent — and a remarkably low 23 complaints in June.

In the past year, on-time arrivals overall at Tampa International occurred 74.6 percent of the time, pretty much in the middle of the pack of major airports.

It gets more interesting after these four airline examples. United Airlines, No. 4 in market share at TIA, reported on-time arrivals of just 61 percent and 297 complaints systemwide in June. But the weakest link among the top 10 airlines serving TIA belongs to No. 7 Spirit Airlines — whose maverick reputation precedes it — with just under a 41 percent on-time arrival performance and 284 consumer complaints in June, a high figure for a relatively small airline.

According to the Air Travel Consumer Report, Spirit's arrival tardiness on some routes is so severe that it deserved special attention. On certain flights to Tampa International, Spirit dominates a list of the chronically late. For example, Spirit Flight 615 from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa in May was late by an average of 104 minutes 55 percent of the time. In June, it was late by an average of 100 minutes 73 percent of the time. Spirit flights from Houston and Chicago to Tampa also were singled out for chronic tardiness.

Nationwide, the report warned, complaints from U.S. travelers rose a startling 20.3 percent in the first six months of 2015 compared with the same period last year. In the first half of this year, consumers filed 9,542 complaints, up from the total of 7,935 received during the first six months of 2014. In June, the Transportation Department received 2,052 complaints from travelers, up 47.3 percent from the total of 1,393 filed in June 2014 and up 37.5 percent from the 1,492 received in May.

Of the 2,052 nationwide complaints received in June, the largest proportion (35 percent) was related to flight delays. Lost baggage was the next largest with nearly 13.8 percent of all complaints, followed by 12.2 percent related to reservations/ticketing/boarding, 11.5 percent related to customer service and 10.7 percent related to fares.

Clearly, there are escalating reasons to be grumpy when flying these days. Let's not even mention the lack of leg room.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com.

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