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Virgin America flies above the rest

Virgin America topped the annual Airline Quality Rating report for the fourth year in a row.
Virgin America topped the annual Airline Quality Rating report for the fourth year in a row.European Pressphoto Agency

Virgin America topped the annual Airline Quality Rating report for the fourth year in a row, while Spirit, a company that consistently draws the ire of customers, ranked last.

Virgin’s overall score in the study bested JetBlue and Delta among the 13 airlines ranked. The study, released this week by Wichita State University, examined performance in the categories of mishandled luggage, late flights, denied boardings (because of oversold flights), and customer complaints. The scores are based on information from the US Department of Transportation.

Alaska Airlines, which ranked fifth in the report, bought Virgin America on Monday for $2.6 billion.

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The study found that although airline performance improved slightly in 2015, the number of customer complaints rose by 38 percent from 2014 to 2015. It’s the highest number of customer complaints in 15 years.

“Spirit takes a hit in the complaint category because people don’t really know much about them,” said one of the report’s coauthors Dean Headley, PhD, of Wichita State University. “Consumers shop on price, but then they’re nickeled and dimed when they get to the airport, so they complain in record numbers. Spirit doesn’t make it particularly clear you’re going to pay for everything.”

Hawaiian scored highest in the category of on-time flights, JetBlue had the lowest percentage of denied boarding because of oversold flights, and Virgin America had the lowest number of mishandled bags. Envoy Air had the worst ratings for mishandled luggage and denied boarding, while Spirit had the fewest number of on-time flights.

“Some airlines do well in some categories and not so good in others,” Headley said. “It tells me that they can change if they want to. They can institute policies that can result in positive outcomes. It gives me hope.”

Overall airline ranking, with 2014 ranking in parentheses:

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1. Virgin America (1)

2. JetBlue (4)

3. Delta (3)

4. Hawaiian (2)

5. Alaska (5)

6. Southwest (6)

7. SkyWest (10)

8. United (9)

9. ExpressJet (11)

10. American (7)

11. Frontier (8)

12. Envoy Air (12)

13. Spirit (new to rating in 2015)


Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther