America’s Best and Worst Airlines of 2016
Life + Money

America’s Best and Worst Airlines of 2016

REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang

Bad news for travelers who dislike having their personal space violated: Airlines are considering charging passengers extra to avoid the dreaded middle seat.

While first class, business class and anything better than basic seats in economy already cost more, some airlines are looking to implement tiered pricing for all economy seats. Passengers used to be able to avoid the middle seat by booking early, but airlines are now increasingly pushing travelers to pay more for coveted aisle and window seats.

Related: 12 Must-Know Travel Trends for 2016

Southwest, which doesn’t assign seats, upped the price of an early-boarding pass from $12.50 to $15 last month. For those who don’t want to dish out the extra cash, they’ll have to be among the first to check-in to ensure they a seat they want.

On Delta Air Lines, passengers who buy a Basic Economy ticket don’t get their seat assignment until after they check in, meaning travelers who paid more can choose the more desirable seats. Both American Airlines and United plan on offering a similar economy fare class later this year.

Despite that kind of squeeze by the airlines, a new study found that over the past year, the airline industry actually improved its overall performance after slightly declining in 2014.

The annual Airline Quality Rating report released this month ranked 13 U.S. airlines based on their rates of bumping passengers, on-time performance, mishandling luggage and customer complaints.

The industry improved in all variables tracked, except for customer complaints, which jumped 37 percent over the past year, from 1.38 complaints per 100,000 passengers in 2014 to 1.90 in 2015.

Related: 7 Secrets to Scoring Cheap Airline Tickets

Out of the 13 airlines evaluated, six — JetBlue, Delta, ExpressJet, SkyWest, Southwest and United — improved their overall performance scores from last year. The remaining seven saw their scores decline. 

Here’s how the airlines stack up this year:

1. Virgin America

For the fourth year in a row, Virgin managed to snag the top spot. The airline, which is currently being purchased by Alaska for $2.6 billion, also ranked No. 1 for the fewest number of mishandled bags each month with an average of 0.84 per 1,000 passengers.

2. JetBlue

JetBlue climbed two spots after falling to fourth last year. The airline boasts the lowest number of passengers who have been involuntarily denied boarding due to an oversold flight.

3. Delta

Ranked third for the second year in a row, Delta has both the third-highest on-time arrival rate at 85.9 percent and the third-lowest number of mishandled bags at 2.08 per 1,000 passengers each month.

4. Hawaiian

Not only is Hawaiian the oldest U.S. airline that has never had a fatal accident, the carrier also leads the industry in the highest rate of on-time arrivals, at an average of 88.4 percent each month.

5. Alaska

Alaska had the lowest number of complaints reported to the Department of Transportation. On average, the carrier receives only 0.5 complaints each month.

6. Southwest

Ranked sixth for the second year in a row, Southwest improved in all of the variables measured, including on-time arrivals, customer complaint rate, involuntary denied boarding and mishandled baggage.

7. SkyWest

SkyWest, which jumped up from the 10th spot last year, still has a ways to go before being named among the top carriers. The airline had the second highest number of passengers who were denied boarding at an average of 1.78 per quarter.

8. United

Since its 2012 debut on the rankings at dead last, United has been rising in the standings. This year the carrier improved in all of the variables measured, except for a slight uptick in the number of customer complaints.

9. ExpressJet

ExpressJet has the second-highest number of passengers that are involuntarily denied boarding, despite improving from an average of 2.71 per 10,000 passengers in 2014 to 1.86 this past year. The carrier remains well above the industry average of 0.76.  

10. American

American fell from seventh in the rankings in 2014, thanks to poorer performance in three out of the four variables measured. The airline receives the third-highest number of complains each quarter at 3.36 per 100,000 passengers.

11. Frontier

The ultra low cost carrier saw the largest decline in the overall rankings from last year. Frontier has the worst on-time arrival rate at 73.2 percent, a drop from 74.1 percent last year. 

12. Envoy Air

Envoy, formerly known as American Eagle, has the highest number of mishandled bags each month at an average of 9.02 per 1,000 passengers. The number is significantly above the average industry rate of 3.24. 

13. Spirit

Ranked dead last, Spirit also received the highest number of complaints to the Department of Transportation at an average of 11.73 per month. The airline beat out the airline with the next highest number of complaints by nearly 4.