Tempe-based US Airways received more complaints than any other U.S. airline last year, and more than twice as many gripes as it garnered in 2006.
In fact, the whole industry fared poorly in 2007 amid rising fuel prices and increasingly fed-up consumers, according to a new report released Monday.
The past year "was the worst year ever for the U.S. airlines," said Brent Bowen, a study co-author and professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Aviation Institute."Overall operational performance and quality declined once again to the lowest level that it's ever been."
The annual Airline Quality Rating survey found that more bags were lost, more passengers were bumped, more consumers complained and fewer flights arrived on-time than in the previous year. The overall "quality score" the researchers gave the industry (-2.16) was the lowest in the nearly two decades the group has studied the airlines.
The survey comes at a difficult time for the industry given rising fuel prices, safety problems and bankruptcy troubles that shut down three carriers last week. ATA, Aloha Airlines and Skybus stopped flying because of financial pressures.
Low-cost carriers - AirTran, Jet Blue and Southwest - took the top three spots in airline quality, while Comair, American Eagle, and Atlantic Southeast Airlines were at the bottom of the list.
Overall, US Airways ranked 11th best of the 16 carriers studied. That's actually up two slots from 13th place last year. But researchers didn't have much praise for the hometown carrier, which ranked worst for overall complaints, and slipped from its own 2006 performance measures.
"US Airways showed declines in all four Airline Quality Report criteria tracked for 2007," the researchers wrote. The criteria include on-time performance, mishandled baggage, customer complaint rate and denied boarding rate. But US Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder said the company has been steadily improving since last summer. "It was a challenging year for the entire industry and for US Airways in particular because of severe winter storms and the integration of our two reservations systems (in March)," Wunder said. "We launched an operational improvement plan and we are seeing results. We were in the top three (of major airlines) in on-time performance for three months and our baggage handling improved 26 percent last month."
"We're not where we want to be, but we are focused," Wunder said.
US Airways wasn't alone in displeasing passengers in 2007. According to the study, the rate of consumer complaints was up 60 percent industrywide last year. Complaints were up for 15 of the 16 airlines in the study, all except Phoenix-based Mesa Air. About 37 percent of the complaints were for flight problems, including canceled or averted flights, said Dean Headley, an associate professor at Wichita State University and co-author of the study.About 20 percent of the complaints concerned baggage - stolen, lost or damaged. Another top complaint, at about 11 percent, was poor customer service.
On-time arrivals dropped for the fifth straight year, with more than one-quarter of all flights late, according to the survey. Southwest had the best on-time performance; Atlantic Southeast had the worst.