WASHINGTON (AP) - For the second straight year, low-cost carrier AirTran Airways did the best job of getting passengers where they were going, says a survey exploring the all-too-familiar hassles of flying. American Eagle was ranked worst among the nation's 15 largest airlines, though United drew the most complaints.
Despite higher fares, new fees and canceled routes, flying is getting better overall, said researchers who analyzed federal data on airline performance during 2011. Key indicators on lost bags, delayed flights, bumpings from overbooked planes and consumer complaints to the government improved.
"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," said Dean Headley, a business professor at Wichita State University who has co-written the annual airline performance report for 22 years.
AirTran again topped the list, followed by similar repeat performances by Hawaii Airlines and JetBlue Airways in second and third places.
Headley said airlines are slowly, steadily recovering from their meltdown five years ago, when, under the strain of near-record consumer travel demand, their performance tanked. Industry performance for all four measurements 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," he said.
"To their credit, I think they are doing a better job."
After the top three, the overall rankings, in order, were: Frontier Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, US Airways, SkyWest Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, United Airlines, Atlantic Southeast Airlines, Mesa Airlines, and American Eagle.
With higher fuel costs, airfares are trending up, although increases vary significantly depending on whether the passenger is flying between major airports or is heading to or from a small or medium-sized airport.