STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
One year ago today, a United Airlines passenger was violently dragged off a plane because he refused to be bumped from the flight. An airline quality report card out today shows that airlines are improving service on things like bumping passengers. NPR's David Schaper reports on the results.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: The annual Airline Quality Rating by researchers at Wichita State and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University shows that, as a whole, the 12 largest U.S. airlines improved their performance last year in 3 of the 4 categories tracked. One of those measures is the number of passengers bumped from overbooked flights.
DEAN HEADLEY: Involuntary denied boardings got better by a very noticeable margin - cut in half.
SCHAPER: Wichita State professor and study co-author, Dean Headley.
HEADLEY: You look at mishandled bags per thousand passengers, and that got better.
SCHAPER: And, Headley says, fewer passengers filed complaints. Only the airlines' on-time performance was worse last year than the year before. And that only dropped off slightly. So does that mean that the passenger experience is getting better? Headley answers with a catchy phrase. Airline travel is great again.
HEADLEY: Now, you can follow that with a period, a question mark or an exclamation point. Depends on what happened on your last flight.
SCHAPER: Headley says three airlines that had been right near the bottom in performance last year, United, American and Frontier, improved in every category. And one airline that had been right near the top, Virgin America, performed worse in every category. United in particular did a lot better in bumping fewer passengers. But Headley notes it was only after video of the bloodied passenger being dragged off the plane went viral. Now he says United is changing its policies for transporting pets - but again, only after a dog died after being placed in an overhead bin.
HEADLEY: I kind of get disappointed when it takes an incident - a very bad incident - for the airlines to react and do something about.
SCHAPER: Passenger advocates echo those frustrations. Kurt Ebenhoch of the group Air Travel Fairness says after the dragging and other viral incidents of passengers being mistreated, an outraged Congress held hearings amid demands airlines be held accountable. But...
KURT EBENHOCH: Not a single law changed. Not a single regulation was passed. Nothing was done from a government perspective to prevent that from happening again.
SCHAPER: Ebenhoch says now the airlines are asking the Trump administration to further deregulate the industry.
EBENHOCH: And is trying to take away every single consumer protection - just about - that's been in place for an awfully long time.
SCHAPER: Ebenhoch says this Airline Quality Report, now in its 28th year, would not even exist if the airlines were not required to report the data. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "JET AIRLINER")
STEVE MILLER BAND: (Singing) Big old jet airliner don't carry me too far away. Oh, big old jet airliner because it's...
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