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May 18, 2021

Can airline travel actually be getting better?

Though you wouldn’t know it by talking to anyone that actually flies regularly, it seems airlines are actually getting better.

According to the 2010 Airline Quality Rating report, which ranks the 18 largest U.S. airlines on four criteria – on-time performance, mishandled baggage, denied boardings and general complaints – the quality of air travel across the border improved last year, with more flights arriving on time and fewer bags going astray. 

Unfortunately, there’s no across-the-board winner to be found, which means you basically have to decide which category is most important to you.

Denied boardings is the only element where performance declined, which is hardly surprising, says Dean Headley, one of the study’s authors.

"You would expect denied boardings to increase as you tighten up on the number of seats that are available," he says. "When you look at the past 10 years, you find that the airline industry performs most efficiently when the system isn't stressed by high passenger volume.”

Every time there are more planes in the sky and more people flying, airline performance suffers, Headley maintains. That’s because airlines are focused on generating revenues, not necessarily on customer service.

Here’s where major carriers stand, according to the AQR, with the 2009 ranking in parentheses:

1.     Hawaiian (1)
2.     AirTran (2)
3.     JetBlue (3)
4.     Northwest (4)
5.     Southwest (6)
6.     Continental (8)
7.     Frontier (7)
8.     US Airways (10)
9.     American (9)
10.   ExpressJet (not ranked in 2009 report)
11.   Alaska (5)
12.   Mesa (14)
13.   United (11)
14.   SkyWest (13)
15.   Delta (12)
16.   Comair (15)
17.   Atlantic Southeast (17)
18.   American Eagle (16)

Do you agree? Although not included in these ranking, how do you think Canada’s carriers stack up?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...