Alaska, Delta Finish No. 1 and 2 in New Airline Quality Rating

After four years at the top of the Airline Quality Rating, Virgin America slipped to third in 2016, and the airline it announced a merger with last year–Alaska Airlines–has finished No. 1. Delta came in at a close second, according to the 27th annual Airline Quality Rating (AQR), released today (Monday, April 10) at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

A joint research project funded as part of faculty research activities by Dr. Dean Headley at the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University (Wichita, Kan.) and Dr. Brent Bowen at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Ariz., campus, the most recent AQR also showed that industry performance improved in all four core elements tracked by the study: on-time performance, rate of involuntary denied boardings, rate of mishandled bags and the rate of customer complaints.

Nine of the 12 airlines improved in three categories (on-time, baggage handling and customer complaints), and seven of the 12 airlines improved in all four categories. Airlines that performed better in 2016 were Alaska, American, Delta, ExpressJet, Frontier, SkyWest, Southwest, Spirit and United. Those whose scores declined in 2016 were Hawaiian, JetBlue and Virgin America.

Below is the 2016 numerical ranking of the nation’s leading 12 airlines, according to the Airline Quality Rating, with the 2015 ranking in parentheses:

1.Alaska (5)
2.Delta (3)
3.Virgin America (1)
4.JetBlue (2)
5.Hawaiian (4)
6.Southwest (6)
7.SkyWest (7)
8.United (8)
9.American (10)
10.ExpressJet (9)
11.Spirit (13)
12.Frontier (11)

NOTE: The 2015 rating included 13 airlines. Envoy is not rated in 2016.

In April 2016, Seattle-based Alaska Air Group publicly announced it would be acquiring Virgin America in 2017 to form the nation’s fifth-largest airline. The 2016 Department of Transportation (DOT) data used in the study listed the airlines as separate entities.