The report graded seven major airlines – Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, jetBlue, Southwest, United and US Airways – according to six criteria: percentage of on-time arrivals,, cancelled flights, extreme delays, number of involuntary denied boardings (or "bumped" passengers, lost bags and quantity of customer complaints.
Top line findings: overall Delta was the best airline, while United was the worst.
According to the report, here are America's best and worst airlines for 2012:
The report did find a slight “industry wide improvement” in air travel. Nearly 80% of domestic flights were on time, or within 15 minutes of scheduled time, in 2012, compared to 76% the previous year. Only 1.4% of domestic US flights were cancelled last year, compared with 2.1% in 2011. Another tidbit of good news, fewer flights had disproportionate delays (defined as 45 minutes or more), and there were less lost bags. On the bad side, the frequency of bumping passengers increased slightly, as did the total rate of traveller complaints.
Passengers on front-runner Delta enjoyed the lowest rate of cancellations, of late flights, bumped passengers and missing bags. This marked a noteworthy improvement for Delta, which was voted the worst in the Journal’s 2010 when it merged with Northwest. Since then, the airline has stepped up measures to improve its efficiency, including rebuilding its luggage system at its Atlanta hub to decrease missing baggage, and fine-tuning the availability of spare planes in different hubs in order to keep flights moving.
Conversely, 2012 was a turbulent year for United, which dropped from second-to-last to last in the WSJ’s ranking. The airline not only had the most bumped passengers in 2012, but the most customer complaints. In fact, United’s customer complaints were so abundant they bumped up the industry-wide upsurge in complaints in 2012--over 3,617 complaints in the first 10 months of 2012, compared with 958 during the same period in 2011. By contrast, Delta only had 777.
United’s miserable performance may have been due to its messy merger with Continental, which led to lost reservations, excessive phone wait times, late and cancelled flights and irate customers.
American also performed disappointingly, coming in second-to-last with the highest rates of late and cancelled flights.