Alaska Excursions

Alaska Excursions

A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Iditarod 41

Photos and stories from the last great race.

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Airlines do better, but more passengers complain

More from Alaska

Public welcomed on summit of Max's Mountain at last

For the first time ever in the ski area's history, Alyeska Resort opened Max's Mountain to the public on Saturday from the peak's summit.

Chugach backcountry network takes stride forward

A decades-long dream of backcountry hikers to construct a network of destinations in remote sections of the Kenai Peninsula accessible mainly by the Alaska Railroad took a step forward this month.

Outdoor Life names Kodiak 4th best for sportsmen

What's better, bagging a giant king salmon or a kokanee, the landlocked red salmon that rarely exceeds 14 inches? A Kodiak brown bear more than 1,000 pounds or a chukar, a small game bird in the pheasant family? Outdoor Life magazine, apparently, prefers modest species gathered in pleasant weather.

BOTTOM LINE: Carriers love their customers, but goal remains profitability.

WASHINGTON -- Airlines did a lot right last year.

They were better at arriving on time and not overbooking planes so people got bumped less often from flights. Their rate for losing or damaging bags was the lowest in 20 years.

But don't tell that to passengers, who made it clear that not all was friendly in the skies in 2010.

Complaints to the Department of Transportation about airline performance went up a whopping 28 percent from the year before, according to an annual study of airline quality released today.

It's hard to nail down a precise reason for that spike in consumer disenchantment, but it's most likely due to changes in the way airlines are doing business, said Dean Headley, co-author of the report that's based on department data.

The number of air travelers is increasing, but there are fewer flights and fewer seats available. So flights are more crowded and it's tougher to rebook when a flight is canceled.

"They are trying to match supply and demand -- the number of seats available to the number of people demanding seats -- a lot closer so they don't fly empty seats, which is expensive for the airlines," said Headley, an associate professor of marketing at Wichita State University's W. Frank Barton School of Business.

That increases the chances that some passengers are going to be unhappy because mismatches between passengers and seats available usually are managed to the airline's advantage, he said.

"Even though airlines are vocal about saying they want to please the customer, when it comes right down to it, they're going to make money first," Headley said.

There were 1.22 complaints per 100,000 passengers last year, compared with less than one per 100,000 in 2009.

The overall ranking of the nation's 16 largest airlines was based on their combined performance in four categories -- on-time arrivals, mishandled baggage, denied boardings and complaints.

The department keeps no records on the number of flight cancellations, but the biggest category of complaints was "flight problems," which includes cancellations and delays.

Industry officials had predicted that cancellations would increase as a result of new federal rules that bar airlines from keeping passengers waiting in planes longer than three hours without giving them a chance to get off. Such "tarmac strandings" have plummeted since the rules, which include fines of as much as $27,500 per passenger per violation, took effect.

Southwest Airlines kept its ranking as the airline with the lowest consumer complaint rate, 0.27 per 100,000 passengers. Delta had the worst rate again, two per 100,000 passengers.

Four of every five domestic flights arrived on time last year, a slight increase from 2009. Over the past 20 years, on-time performance has ranged from a high of 82.5 percent in 1991 to a low of 72.6 percent in 2000.

Eleven airlines improved in this category last year, and eight had an on-time arrival percentage over 80 percent. Hawaiian Airlines was the best, at 92 percent. Comair, a regional airline, was last at 73 percent.

Last year's rate of 3.5 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers was the best in the two decades that the study has been produced. This rate peaked in 2007 at 7.01 After that, many airlines began charging for checked baggage. That, in turn, has reduced the number of bags passengers are checking.

Low-cost carrier AirTran had the best baggage handling rate, 1.6 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers; American Eagle had the worst, 7.15.

The ratings are based on statistics for airlines that carry at least 1 percent of the passengers who flew domestically last year. The research is sponsored by Purdue University in Indiana, and by Wichita State University in Kansas.

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