AirTran had the best baggage handling rate, 1.63 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. American Eagle had the worst baggage handling rate, 7.32 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers. That was more than double the industry rate of 3.35.
Seven airlines improved mishandled baggage rates in 2011: Alaska, American, Atlantic Southeast, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue and SkyWest. The mishandled baggage rate for the industry decreased from 3.49 per 1,000 passengers in 2010 to 3.35 last year.
Southwest once again had the lowest consumer complaint rate, 0.32 complaints per 100,000 passengers; United had the highest consumer complaint rate at 2.21.
Headley attributed United's high complaint rate to rough patches in the airline's merger with Continental. The airlines, which merged their reservation operations last month, now operate under the United name.
The overall rate of customer complaints was virtually unchanged, 1.19 in 2011 compared to 1.22 in 2010. Only five of the 15 airlines improved their customer complaint rates for 2011 — AirTran, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian and JetBlue.
The majority of complaints fell into four categories: flight problems such as unplanned schedule changes, delays and cancellations, 34.9 percent; baggage, 14.3 percent; customer service, 12.1 percent, and reservations, ticketing and boarding, 11.2 percent.
Purdue University aviation technology professor Brent Bowen co-wrote the report with Headley. Their research is sponsored by Purdue, in Indiana, and Wichita State.
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