If a new national study is to be believed, U.S. airlines are more frequently flying out on time, are losing fewer bags, and generally have fewer complaining customers.

These are the findings of the latest Airline Quality Rating, conducted by a team from Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The data released Monday, April 10, were based on information from the U.S. Department of Transportation, involving factors such as on-time performance, handling of baggage, and government-filed complaints.

A Good Time To Fly?

Airlines still face a certain perception problem typically revolving around flight delays, missed connections, or missing luggage, according to the study authors.

"People don't look at the numbers," said marketing professor and study co-author Dean Headley in an AP report. "They just know what happened to them, or they hear what happened to other people."

The report findings painted a different picture. In general, they observed on-time airline performance, where the percentage of flights arriving on time or being close enough climbed to 81.4 percent in 2016, from 2015’s 79.9 percent. Of the leading carriers, however, American, Virgin America, and JetBlue got worse.

When it came to bumping passengers, the chances of suffering this scenario dipped 18 percent. This, though, did not include those who voluntarily gave up their airline seat in exchange for money or travel vouchers.

The rate of passengers’s bags getting stolen, lost, or delayed dropped 17 percent, while the number of complaints filed with government agencies decreased around one-fifth. Complaints increased only for Hawaiian and Virgin America.

The complaint rates exclude the larger complaint base filed directly with the airlines, which they are not obliged to officially report.

Report Analysis

Airlines posted great figures in this year’s report, even in usually critical areas such as baggage handling as well as denied boardings. And there’s one apparent reason for fewer travelers getting bumped from flights, according to Headley.

“[T]he leaders of these airlines have changed their philosophy in recent years. They no longer have the attitude that bumping a passenger is ok because there's not another customer around the corner,” he explained.

Reports of mishandled bags also reached an all-time low, partly owing to carriers such as Delta now integrating new tracking-friendly technology such as luggage tags equipped with RFID chips.

Average airfare for a domestic flight also dropped 8 percent from 2015, reaching just $344, Headley added.

The researchers have been producing this report for over 25 years. Some industry insiders, however, believe that a broader analysis may be necessary.

TripAdvisor executive Bryan Saltzburg, for instance, said a statistical review of government data does not consider airlines’s treatment of customers, such as staff’s attitude and passengers’s level of comfort inside the plane. In its own recently released ranking, the travel website place JetBlue and Alaska Airlines in the top 10 worldwide.

In March, United Airlines made the headlines when it stopped two teenage girls from boarding their flight because they were wearing leggings. The incident sparked outrage on social media, while United defended its decision and reserved its right to refuse boarding for passengers who were not properly clothed according to its contract of carriage.

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