Despite horrific incidents, airline service soars to record high – CNBC

Despite a slew of headlines last year about airline customers having miserable, sometimes horrific experiences, a new report says the quality of airline service hit a record high in 2017.

“I would have to say overall the airline experience is getting better for most people, although there are still people that are disappointed,” said Dean Headley, a professor at Wichita State University.

Headley and Dr. Brent Bowen from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University are the authors of the Airline Quality Rating. For the last 26 years they have calculated the performance of carriers based on four factors measured by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT): Percentage of bags mishandled, on-time arrivals, denied boardings and complaints to the DoT.

“Three out of the four things we look at actually got better this year,” said Headley.

While the percentage of flights on time last year, 80.2 percent, was slightly lower than in 2016, there were also fewer complaints from passengers. In addition, carriers posted record low numbers for mishandled bags and for passengers being involuntarily bumped from flights.

In fact, denied boardings were down last year compared to 2016, as airlines changed their policies after a passenger was dragged off of a United Airlines plane. Video of the incident was so bad, it prompted a public outcry for airlines to drop, or dramatically reduce, the practice of overselling flights.

“We hope the industry got the message,” said Headley. “It was a horrible message that we saw last spring. Certainly, from that point in time through the end of 2017, the industry as a whole cut its involuntary denied boardings.”

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