Worst US Airline Named For 2012

The worst US airline for 2012 is, to no one’s great surprise, United Airlines. Purdue and Wichita State universities’ Airline Quality Rating 2013 was published late Monday, and very frequent biggest loser United Airlines (UAL) took the top slot as the worst airline in the 14 carriers still standing in the largely consolidated United States air travel market.

Thanks to its merger with Continental, UAL is now the world’s largest airline ranked by the number of scheduled passenger miles flown and the number of destinations.

The air travel behemoth is also the airline that Americans love to hate. It’s easy to keep the crown of worst US airline when you double your complaints in a single year — receiving 17 times the number of complaints received by Southwest, which got the fewest.

Among other things, United lost the most bags and bumped the most passengers.

And United Airlines has sure enjoyed the kind of publicity that money can’t buy over recent months. As The Inquisitr reported a few days ago, an entire family was kicked off a UAL flight from Denver to Baltimore after they complained about an inappropriate inflight movie — and I’m talking the pilot diverted to Chicago and made a special stop just for them. Ouch.

In February, Matthew Klint — a frequent flyer who used to be an active advocate for United Airlines on his popular Live and Let’s Fly blog — was kicked out of his business class seat and escorted off his flight from Istanbul after he snapped a photograph of his empty seat. The flight was crammed with Flyertalkers and other bargain hunters taking advantage of a good UAL sale to Istanbul, so he had plenty of witnesses to back up his claim that he did nothing wrong and never raised his voice.

UAL “reached out” to Klint but still hasn’t apologized or admitted any wrong-doing in the incident.

So don’t get me wrong. United Airlines really knows how to screw the pooch when it comes to making customers happy.

UAL even has their own unofficial — and unwanted — theme song, “United Breaks Guitars,” which was first released into the wilds of YouTube in 2009 when baggage handlers destroyed a singer/songwriter’s guitar. Guys, that’s never a good publicity move.

However, in all fairness, the annual survey just doesn’t make fair comparisons. They ranked small airline Virgin America as America’s best, which is the kind of apples and oranges comparison that doesn’t really help consumers.

Noted Flyertalker poster bse118: “Virgin America and JetBlue are great, I’ll be sure to take them the next time I need to fly to LHR or NRT or HSV or LNK. Oh…wait. So again, not really a straight comparison to UA, DL, AA, US.”

Flyertalkers also reminded us of the notorious incident last summer, when United Airlines sold first-class round-trip tickets from the United States to Hong Kong for four frequent flyer miles and $43, clearly a mistake. People rushed to purchase, but the airline didn’t honor the fare, leading to a huge spike in complaints filed against them with the Department of Transportation (DOT).

That’s the problem with just counting complaints and then voting UAL the most-complained about airline. Even the DOT agreed that United was within its rights to cancel the tickets.

A related issue is that United’s major hub is Chicago O’Hare, one of the busiest airports not just in America but in the world. You combine world-class levels of air traffic with the Windy City’s famous winter weather, and there are going to be some delayed and cancelled flights even if you have the best will in the world.

By comparison, Delta’s hub (and current world’s busiest airport) is located in relatively pleasant Atlanta.

As for Virgin America, I congratulate them on their prize but they’re not a full-service airline, nor are they intended to be.

As business writer Brad Tuttle noted for Time in October:

“Virgin America is the equivalent of a TV show that’s a hit with critics but risks being canceled because of failing to attract enough viewers. The San Francisco-based carrier is regularly voted to the top of ‘best airline’ lists. But it is far from the best in the business at making money.”

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re Santa’s sleigh full of goodies, if you don’t fly where I’m going, I don’t care how good you are.

And I don’t care if you offer “mood lighting.” I want a cheap ticket.

Tuttle reported that Virgin has lost $447 million in operating costs between 2007 and August 2012.

United Airlines probably does deserve the title of worst U.S. airline. But real frequent flyers know that they’ve all got issues.

[2012’s worst U.S. airline United Airline photo by Lasse Fuss via Wikipedia Commons]