Hawaiian, AirTran, JetBlue Rated Best Airlines for Service

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Hawaiian Airlines took the top spot in a recent Airline Quality Rating study released Monday, followed by AirTran, JetBlue, Northwest and Southwest.

The findings, based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation, rank the nation's 18 busiest airlines for the quality of their services. Other findings showed Southwest continues to reign supreme for airlines with the least customer complaints and best on-time rate, while AirTran achieved the best score on mishandled baggage.

According to a report by the Baltimore Sun, private researchers compiled the ratings based on four categories: on-time performance, mishandled baggage, denied boardings due mostly to overbookings, and consumer complaints.

Hawaiian has come in first place for three of the last four years, battling AirTran for the top spot. AirTran was number one three years ago and finished second last year.

In general, regional airlines ranked poorly. American Eagle, Atlantic Southeast and Comair came in at the bottom of the list. Delta, the airline who owns Atlantic Southeast and Comair, ranked fourth from last.

Overall, the survey showed good news for consumers: even though less passengers boarded planes last year, planes were more likely to arrive on time and less bags were lost in transit. However, less bags were checked last year, most likely due in large part to baggage fees.

In 2007, airline performance suffered a near meltdown when air travel numbers swelled to around 770 million passengers. Over the past two years, performance has been steadily improving. Passengers dipped to around 750 million in 2008 and then dropped again to 704 million last year.

"We kind of turned a little bit of a corner in '08 and we're glad to say they're continuing that generally positive (trend) for the consumer," Dean Headley, a Wichita State University professor and co-author of an annual analysis of airline quality, told the Sun. "Every airline that we looked at in '08 and '09 got better."

A decrease in the number of scheduled flights and fuller planes resulted in overbooking, meaning more air travelers were denied boardings than in previous years. American Eagle had the highest rate at 3.76 per 100,000 passengers, while JetBlue had so few denied boardings the carrier's rate showed up at zero.

The ratings, sponsored by Purdue University and Wichita State University, are based on airlines that carry at least one percent of the passengers who flew on domestic flights last year.
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