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Top 15 Airlines for Service

If you’re planning a trip and want to avoid delayed flights, lost bags, getting bumped, and bad service — AirTran Airways is your best bet.

According to a new report based on data provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation, AirTran does the best job at getting its passengers to their destinations on time, and with fewer complaints. Hawaiian Airlines and JetBlue Airways ranked second and third, respectively.

The study, compiled by private researchers at Wichita State University and Purdue University, shows that while service overall has improved, passengers confronted with constant fare hikes, increased route cancellations, and countless fees don’t agree.

AirTran topped the annual report’s rankings of the nation’s 15 largest airlines for the second year in a row. The majority of passenger complaints were grouped into four categories: surprise schedule changes, delays, and cancellations, about 35 percent; baggage issues, more than 14 percent; customer service, around 12 percent; and reservations, ticketing, and boarding, above 11 percent.

Business professor Dean Headley, who has co-authored the national Airline Quality Rating report for the past 22 years, said, “Airlines are finally catching up with what their promise is, which is getting you there on time 80 percent of the time with your bags.”

Headley says there is a slow, steady recovery from the airline meltdown five years ago, when performance tanked due to near-record consumer travel demand. Industry-wide efficiency was slightly better in 2011 compared with 2010.

“They realize that people are paying a lot more money, and the system is more complex than it was, and they have to do a better job. To their credit, I think they are doing a better job,” he said.

American Eagle was last in overall performance, though it showed the most improvement from the year before.

Hawaiian Airlines, which operates out of Honolulu, had the best on-time performance. The worst was JetBlue, which is based in Queens, N.Y.

“New York is a particularly difficult area to fly from,” said Headley. “And JetBlue seems to be having more and more trouble with that.”

Regardless, JetBlue ranked third best in overall performance — and the one that bumped passengers the least.

AirTran did the best job of not losing passengers' bags, mishandling less than two bags per 1,000. American Eagle was worst, mishandling more than seven bags per 1,000.

Hawaiian was the most efficient at arriving on time with an average of nearly 93 percent, while JetBlue had the worst on-time performance, more than 73 percent.

A flight is considered on time if it arrives within 15 minutes of when it was originally due.

Listed below is each airline’s overall performance, followed by its previous year's ranking:

1) AirTran (1)

2) Hawaiian (2)

3) JetBlue (3)

4) Frontier (9)

5) Alaska (4)

6) Delta (7)

7) Southwest (5)

8) US Airways (6)

9) SkyWest (10)

10) American (11)

11) Continental (8)

12) United (12)

13) Atlantic Southeast (15)

14) Mesa (13)

15) American Eagle (16)

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