US Airways’ performance improved in 2012, according to an annual study by university researchers, but the carrier remained below average compared with its competitors.
The 2013 Airline Quality Rating, based on Department of Transportation data, showed US Airways ranked ninth out of 14 major domestic airlines, down one notch from the prior year.
But US Airways scored higher on several key measures last year than in 2011. The airline’s percentage of on-time flights increased to 85.9 percent, up from 79.8 percent in 2011.
Company executives said the airline had a record year for on-time flights in 2012. Mild winter weather buoyed the whole air travel industry, and US Airways also didn’t have to cope with a pilot slowdown as it did for part of 2011.
Virgin America was rated highest for 2012. United Airlines, beset by computer network problems and delays as it merged with Continental, ranked the lowest out of the nation’s airlines.
Nationwide, complaints by passengers to the DOT jumped 20 percent, to 1.43 per 100,000 people. Nearly two-thirds of complaints were for problems with flights, ticketing, boarding, reservations, or customer service. But the percentage of flights that were on-time increased to 81.8 percent, up from 80 percent in 2011.
Overall, the industry’s rating fell less than 3 percent from 2011.
US Airways is preparing for a merger with American Airlines, which is expected to be completed in the third quarter this year. Executives said they’ll focus on making sure the merger doesn’t hurt the airlines’ performance, as operational problems often go with the complex task of combining different airlines’ vast systems such as reservations.
“We obviously have a keen eye on that,” said US Airways senior vice president of customer experience Kerry Hester. “We know that mergers can be disruptive. … Our eye will be on making the decline that could happen as little as possible.”
After a decade of mega-mergers, many of those who will be planning the US Airways-American merger have combined airlines before.
“People on the operations team have experience,” said Hester. “We’ll look to all the mergers in the past few years.”
At US Airways in 2012, mishandled baggage complaints fell to 2.14 per 1,000 passengers, down from 2.7 per 1,000 the year before. And official customer complaints fell to 1.74 per 100,000 passengers, down from 1.91 per 100,000.
US Airways’ improvement rate was the second-highest in the industry, according to the AQR researchers. But other airlines’ performance also improved, and Virgin America was counted for the first time. That helped keep US Airways from moving higher in the rankings.
US Airways executives also said their airline is a larger carrier with bigger operations in more places than some of the higher-ranked regional carriers such as Hawaiian and JetBlue, which can make US Airways more susceptible to disruptions.
Tempe, Ariz.-based US Airways operates about 90 percent of daily flights at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, its busiest hub.
American’s performance improved in some areas but fell in others.
The airline improved in mishandled baggage and the number of passengers denied boarding in 2012. But American also saw its on-time arrivals fall and customer complaints increase as the carrier worked its way through bankruptcy court.