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The Airlines' Report Card: The Best and Worst

It's time once again for the annual Airline Quality Rating report. For the last 20 years, researchers from Purdue and Wichita State University have revealed their findings on how the airlines are doing, ranging from on-time performance to mishandled bags, from denied boarding (bumping) and a whole range of passenger complaints.

The study is usually a good barometer of how the airline industry is doing as a whole and a great guide for consumers looking to make their travel decisions.

The Good, the Bad, and the Very Ugly

Some interesting surprises: Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance for 2010. More than 92 percent of their flights were on time. Snd the worst? Comair. Only 73 percent of their flights were on time.

Some good news: 11 airlines actually improved their on-time arrival performance last year, and half of them were above 80 percent. One reason for this? The new tarmac delay rules forced a lot of airlines to preemptively cancel a lot of their flights rather than risk high fines -- up to $27,500 per passenger if a plane was stuck out on the tarmac and not returned to the gate in under three hours. A flight can't be delayed if it doesn't operate!

As for bumping, American Eagle denied boarding the most -- four per 100,000 passengers.

The airline with the fewest amount of bumped passengers? JetBlue, which has had a company policy since the airline started of never overbooking their flights.

Air Tran had the best baggage handling rate (1.63 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers) of all airlines. American Eagle had the worst (7.15 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers). But there's good news...in fact, baggage handling improved almost across the board for airlines last year. Why? You'll love this one. Ever since just about every airline started charging for checked bags, more and more people are doing everything they can to carry on. Result -- airlines are actually carrying (and thus mishandling) fewer bags!

When it comes to overall passenger complaints, Southwest (a muiltiple year winner in this category) had the lowest consumer complaint rate 0.27 per 100,000 passengers of all airlines.

The biggest loser in this category is Delta, with the highest consumer complaint rate: two 100,000 passengers. Is it any wonder Delta announced about a month ago that it was sending 11,000 counter and gate agents to charm school?

So what does this mean to consumers? If you're on a Comair flight, you'd better give youself extra time to get to your destination, or extra time between flights to make your connecting flight.

If you're on a JetBlue flight chances are excellent you won't or can't get bumped.

If you're on an American Eagle flight, especially to the Caribbean, the mere weight restrictions of the planes they're using means you stand a higher chance of your bags not being on your flight (and coming on a later flight) than other airlines.

And if you're flying on Delta, it COULD mean while you may not have the happiest of experiences, at least the charm-school trained agents will make you miserable...with a smile and a thank you!

Do you agree with the study's findings? What are your favorite and most-hated airlines?

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Photo credit: Flickr user kalleboo
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