Overall, prices are down and quality is up.
The majority of domestic airlines have been steadily improving over the past year, putting them at their overall highest quality in the past 26 years, according to the Airline Quality Rating report.
The annual study evaluates airlines by using data from the federal Transportation Department’s monthly air travel consumer reporting. The researchers then employ a weighted evaluation using criterion such as on-time arrivals and fewer customer complaints to give analysis on the best and worst airlines in the U.S.
Alaska Airlines took the top spot this year, improving in both on-time arrivals and a reduction of mishandled baggage. These improvements reflect the overall trend of the 12 domestic carriers included in the report, which saw an overall increase in on-time arrivals, with 81.4 percent of flights arrive on time in 2016 compared to 79.9 percent in 2015. Mishandled baggage saw an overall decrease as well, dropping from 3.24 bags per 1,000 passengers to 2.70 bags.
The improving quality has led to a better experience for passengers, according to one of the study's authors.
“The whole industry as a group got better,” Dean Headley, co-author of the study and associate professor of marketing at Wichita State University, told Travel + Leisure. “That’s a good thing for the consumer.”
The increase in quality corresponds with an increase in profit as well, with airlines seeing sky-high profits over the past several years, according to Headley.
“Certainly the airlines have been making money hand over fist in the past two to three years,” Headley said. “At least they seem to be trying to do something for the flying public.”
Not all airlines saw improvement, however. Hawaiian, JetBlue and Virgin America all saw a decrease in their overall scores compared to 2015, though they still remained in the top five.
Frontier Airlines came in last in the rankings at the number 12 spot, with Spirit Airlines scoring second to last at number 11. Poor on-time performance and a high number of customer complaints contributed to the low ranking of these two airlines.
The overall positive trends recorded in 2016 have continued into the first several months of 2017, according to Headley. Glitches or higher incidence of complaints in the busy summer months are always a possibility, but for now his projections remain optimistic.
“On the whole, the airlines are going in the right direction,” he said.