airlinesThe 28th annual Airline Quality Rating (AQR) revealed the best airlines in the United States in 2017. Additionally, the AQR – a joint research project funded as part of faculty research activities at the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University (Wichita, Kansas) and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Arizona, campus – revealed that for the 2017 year, the airline industry as a whole performed better than in previous years.

In the closest finish in nearly three decades of identifying the nation’s top airlines, Alaska Air barely edged out Delta Airlines to retain its No. 1 position in 2017. The differential in the final overall score for best airline came down to only 0.005 between No. 1 Alaska Air and No. 2 Delta – who held onto the same spots achieved in the previous year’s ranking.

Key findings show that three of the four AQR factors tracked – involuntary denied boardings, mishandled bags and customer complaints – improved for the airline industry in 2017. On-time performance, the most heavily weighted element in the AQR, slipped in 2017.

This year’s report also reveals the lowest rate of bumped passengers for the industry and the lowest rate of mishandled baggage for the industry since the AQR started in 1991.

Only three of the 12 airlines improved in all four categories – American Airlines, Frontier and United. Nine of the airlines rated performed better in 2017 over their 2016 AQR scores. Airlines that performed better in 2017 were American, Express Jet, Frontier, Hawaiian, Jet Blue, SkyWest, Southwest, Spirit and United. Those airlines whose scores declined in 2017 were Alaska, Delta and Virgin America.

Below is the 2017 ranking of the nation’s largest 12 airlines, according to the Airline Quality Rating, with the 2016 ranking in parentheses:

1. Alaska (1)

2. Delta (2)

3. JetBlue (4)

4. Hawaiian (5)

5. Southwest (6)

6. SkyWest (7)

7. Virgin America (3)

8. United (8)

9.  American (9)

10. ExpressJet (10)

11. Frontier (12)

12. Spirit (11)

As a note, the 2017 rating does include the same 12 airlines as in 2016. However, Virgin America and Alaska worked toward a merger of the airlines that was realized in early 2018.