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Forbes Rates the Airlines

Christina Talcott

On Wednesday, Forbes.com published the results of a study it conducted to determine which American airlines are the most reliable -- and unreliable.

Ten major airlines were judged in six categories based on five years' worth of stats provided by the Aviation Consumer Protection Division of the Department of Transportation. Categories included on-time arrival percentages, cancellations, complaints and mishandled baggage. According to Forbes, delays and cancellations were counted twice, and the study also incorporated consumer satisfaction rankings by the survey group J.D. Power and Associates. Then, because financial solvency isn't a guarantee these days (and this is a Forbes study, after all), the authors looked at the airlines' asset-to-liability ratio for the latest quarter.

So, let's cut to the chase. Who's #1?

Southwest, hands down.

The discount carrier ranked highest in on-time arrival (more than 80 percent of the time, compared to the industry-wide average, 76.8 percent) and flight cancellations (.065 percent); and complaints (.18 out of 100,000 customers).

Here are more results:

Percentage of On-Time Flights
Best: Southwest Airlines, 81.2 percent
Worst: Alaska, 74.6 percent

Percentage of Flights Canceled
Best: Southwest, 0.65 percent
Worst: American Airlines, 2.4 percent

Mishandled Baggage per 1,000 Passengers
Best: AirTran, 3.6
Worst: US Airways, 8.5

Complaints per 100,000 Enplanements
Best: Southwest, 0.18
Worst: US Airways, 1.7

Budget Airline Rankings:
Highest: JetBlue*
Lowest: AirTran*

Legacy Airline Rankings:
Highest: Continental*
Lowest: Northwest Airlines*

* Based on four years' J.D. Power and Associates surveys.

You can see how each airline in the study measured up here.

Do you agree with these rankings?

By Christina Talcott |  October 2, 2008; 7:30 AM ET  | Category:  Airline Industry , Christina Talcott
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Continental is really the last of the legacy carriers because they still serve food on most of their flights. My wife flew up from Atlanta to Newark yesterday and got lunch in coach. I read that United didn't even want to give you a meal flying to Europe.

Posted by: Tom | October 2, 2008 9:32 AM

Southwest is good at what they do but it is almost like comparing apples to oranges. They aren't a full service airline. If all of the other airlines followed their model, a part percentage of the country would be without service.

Southwest does a great job serving their passengers but it is not a model for everyone.

Posted by: BC | October 2, 2008 10:17 AM

At this point, I think flying UPS or FedEx would be the greatest choice.

Posted by: Flying | October 2, 2008 11:58 AM

I'm going to have to agree with BC.

I fly out of Minneapolis, and Southwest just announced it's finally going to service MSP airport with flights to Midway. (Their hub, I know, but blech.)

Now MSP is a about a six hour drive from Chicago. And while MSP is about 85% Northwest, we've taken flights on most of the other major airlines in and out of there. It's taken Southwest how long to make this relative hop, skip and jump?

The thing is, we still won't be able to easily fly to some family, because of the limited routes they fly. Profitable to be sure, but they don't provide the depth of service of the big guys. Which is probably why they're solvent, but it's a Catch-22.

Posted by: Chasmosaur | October 2, 2008 12:38 PM

Heck ya. Southwest is the only real choice for me. I'll fly Airtran, or American, or Continental in that order (or some of the luxury foreign carriers when I can finagle that, such as Virgin, BA, JAL).

But the first choice for domestic flights is always Southwest. Cheaper, more flexible, no change fees, no luggage fees, good equipment, decent seats, friendly staff.

Honestly, everybody else sucks by comparison. Southwest is the only one where you don't have to compare who's "less bad".

Posted by: omars | October 2, 2008 2:51 PM

Agree that Southwest isn't a full-service airline, but that wasn't what the survey measured. On-time flights, lost luggage, complaints -- you don't have to provide "depth of service" to correct those.

As for Southwest's limited routes, if you don't live near a major hub, any airline is going to offer you limited routes. I live near Albuquerque, and Southwest is one of the few airlines that offers us direct routes to *anywhere* -- often you have to go via DFW, or Phoenix, or Denver, and spend half the day sitting in terminals.

Posted by: PLozar | October 2, 2008 6:07 PM

Find the rankings kinda funny. I just flew Continental this weekedn ORF - EWR and then back. My ORF flight was delayed 4 hours and my EWR flight was delayed 2.25 hours. Thrilling!

Also, I flew Delta - New Orleans to ORF and they ripped a wheel off my bag so that you could reach inside my luggage. I didn't file a complaint because I don't expect them to care let alone do anything about it.

I can only imagine how angry and mistreated the people who complain are.

Posted by: DGood | October 3, 2008 10:32 AM

They must be evaluating a different Continental Airlines than the one I've flown.

Posted by: clowe | October 8, 2008 10:50 AM

I have never been unhappy with Delta. Granted, 99% of my flying is international, and the food, free pillow and blankets, snacks, and drinks suit me just fine.

Now, their Skymiles program has some things to be desired, but, the actual flying is great.

Posted by: Channah | October 8, 2008 11:13 AM

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