Fewer Complaints Help To Boost Airline Quality Ratings

The nation's airlines are running late more often and losing more suitcases. But passengers are complaining less, that's boosted airline quality ratings to their highest level ever.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NPR's business news starts with a paradox of airline service.

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INSKEEP: The paradox is contained in a new report. It says the nation's air carriers are running late more often and losing more suitcases, but passengers are complaining less. That's boosting the airline's quality ratings to their highest level ever.

NPR's David Schaper reports.

DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The 24th annual Airline Quality Ratings by researchers at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University show that U.S. airlines operated fewer than 80 percent of their flights on time in 2013, down a bit from the year before, while the rate of lost baggage rose.

But the study also finds that fewer passengers were bumped from their flights, and complaints filed against the airlines to the federal Department of Transportation dropped a whopping 15 percent. That's right, dropped.

BRENT BOWEN: The overall result is that yes, the performance factors for the airlines are improving.

SCHAPER: Brent Bowen of Embry-Riddle is one of the study's authors and he says while certain services are improving, frequent fliers don't see it. But Bowen says it's likely fewer passengers are complaining about their airlines to the DOT because they're now conditioned to lower expectations in these days of long lines, cramped seats, and fees for just about everything.

BOWEN: You can tell that people don't really expect to have a good time. They don't really expect to have, you know, pleasant customer service or on board service and I think the industry has done us harm through their overall cutbacks.

SCHAPER: Bowen also notes that when airlines merge, quality suffers. While Delta is now rebounding after combining with Northwest, United is still near the bottom but a little better than last year when it's merger with Continental created significant hiccups.

David Schaper, NPR News.

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