Airlines have fewer flights; more of them are on time

Tuesday, April 9, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Fewer airline flights last year meant more of them were on time -- and less luggage was lost.

So says an annual study on airline quality, which found that customer service improved as airlines pared flights and carried fewer passengers.

"The system was well overtaxed," said study co-author, Brent Bowen, director of the aviation institute at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. "When that capacity went down, the airlines were able to improve their performance."

Even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks led to a sharp drop-off of passengers and flights, customer service had improved over 2000 as the recession cut into airline traffic, said the study, supported by the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Wichita State University.

The major airlines carried 612.9 million passengers last year, a decline of 7 percent from 2000, according to the Air Transport Association, an industry trade group. Flights were cut by around 20 percent after the terrorist attacks. The Federal Aviation Administration says the airlines won't get back to pre-Sept. 11 levels until 2003.

With fewer passengers and fewer flights, Transportation Department statistics showed more on-time arrivals, fewer consumer complaints, less lost luggage and fewer bumped passengers in 2001 than in 2000.

Not everything was smoother.

Rather than canceled or delayed flights, passengers instead face increased scrutiny at airports, sometimes being told to arrive two hours before their scheduled takeoff because of tightened security procedures.

Bowen said the new Transportation Security Administration needs to have procedures in place to receive passenger complaints about security. Agency officials have said they will have an ombudsman to handle complaints.

"The consumer may hold the airlines responsible for the problems they encounter," Bowen said. "If we make it too difficult for the consumer to fly, that will have a negative impact on the industry."

For 2001, Alaska Airlines was rated highest for passenger service among 11 airlines surveyed. The airline finished second last year, behind Delta, which was rated fifth this year. TWA, which has since been taken over by American Airlines, was rated last. America West, which received the lowest rating in 2000, was rated seventh this year. All the airlines except Delta scored higher than last year, the study said.

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