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Virgin America makes DOT consumer report debut

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The Air Travel Consumer Report (ATCR), published monthly, is the federal government’s compilation of statistics that, in theory, gives the traveling public an impartial resource with which to make an informed buying decision when it comes to the domestic air travel market. The latest report, issued Wednesday, contains a new contender: Bay Area based Virgin America, which has been in operation since 2007. Last month, we tabulated Virgin’s statistics manually, because they were then considered too small to be part of the report, and the results were impressive—few enough consumer complaints to be ranked second among the carriers already included in the report.

The airline’s product has been lauded by passengers, winning top honors in Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards and Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards for the past four consecutive years. While there’s no doubting Virgin America has fast become a passenger favorite, it’s important to note that the passenger experience surveys focus mainly on product (i.e. how the airline is designed to work) while the ATCR has an operational focus (i.e. how the airline actually works). Passenger surveys focus on items such as check in process, reservation and baggage policies and processes, frequent flier programs, and onboard amenities. The ATCR provides statistics on four main metrics (and a slew of subcategories related to the Big Four): On Time Performance, Oversales, Baggage Handling, and Consumer Complaints.

Let’s see how Virgin America fared in its first report, which covers operations from January, 2012:

On Time Performance: The Department of Transportation (DOT) considers flights “on time” if they arrive within 15 minutes of originally scheduled. In this category, Virgin America operated 82.4% of flights on time for the month of January, ranking it 8th out of 15 carriers included in the survey.

Baggage Handling: Virgin America received 1.21 mishandled bag reports per 1,000 enplaned passengers, ranking it first among the 15 carriers included in the survey. Mishandled bags are bags that do not arrive on the same flight as the passenger, or bags that arrive damaged, assuming all baggage check-in requirements have been met.

Oversales: This metric describes the number of passengers with confirmed reservations that could not be accommodated due to more passengers with confirmed reservations showing up for the flight than the aircraft has seats available due to overbooking. Virgin America was not included in this portion of the report.

Consumer Complaints: This metric describes the number of customers who contacted the Department of Transportation Aviation Consumer Protection Division with a complaint regarding the customer service they received. The DOT logs all complaints impartially, without rendering judgment on merit. The DOT received eight complaints from Virgin America passengers in January, or 1.76 complaints per 100,000 enplaned passengers, ranking it 13th out of the 15 carriers surveyed.

Virgin America serves 18 destinations in the United States and Mexico, including recently announced service to Portland, Oregon. The airline’s fleet will number 50 as of April, 2012.

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