AirTran, Atlantic Southeast, JetBlue and United improved their service last year, but were the only airlines to do so among the 14 major carriers rated in 2003 and 2004, said private researchers who relied on government measures.
An annual report being released today by two college-based researchers found that the overall quality of air travel is deteriorating because more people are flying at a time when airlines have slashed their work forces.
“Morale’s going to be down and they’re not going to care if they get the bags to the loading dock in five minutes, 10 minutes or 15 minutes,” said Dean Headley, a co-author of the Airline Quality Rating study and an associate professor at Wichita State University.
The seven largest carriers, for example, employed 12 percent fewer people in January 2004 than they did the previous year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, which is part of the Transportation Department.
Mr. Headley said the aviation system also is under stress because more planes and more people are flying than they did in the two years after the September 11 hijackings. But the aviation infrastructure — runways, airport slots and the air traffic control system — is essentially the same as it was in the delay-plagued era just before the terrorist attacks.
Overall rankings by airlines are not being released until the study’s complete findings are made public at a press conference today in Washington.
On-time performance worsened last year, with 78.3 percent of flights arriving on time, compared with 82 percent in 2003. SkyWest was on time the most, while American Eagle was on time the least.
Complaints about airline service rose 27 percent last year, a much higher increase than the 3.3 percent growth in passengers.
US Airways generated the most complaints, Southwest the fewest.
Last year, 4.83 bags were lost, stolen or damaged for every 1,000 passengers. Atlantic Southeast had the highest rate of mishandled bags, AirTran the lowest.
The report rated the 16 U.S. airlines that carried at least 1 percent of the 630 million passengers who flew domestically last year. Two carriers, Comair and SkyWest, met that threshold for the first time in 2004.
The report, compiled annually since 1991, is a summary of monthly quality ratings for U.S. airlines. Categories include on-time arrivals, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled baggage and a combination of 12 customer complaint categories.
Mr. Headley assembled the report with Brent Bowen, director of the University of Nebraska’s aviation institute.