WASHINGTON (AP) - Hawaiian Airlines did the best job for fliers last year, closely followed by low-cost carrier AirTran, according to an annual study released Monday that rates the nation's 18 busiest airlines for the quality of their service.
At the bottom were three regional carriers: American Eagle, Atlantic Southeast and Comair. Atlantic Southeast and Comair are owned by mainline carrier Delta, which was ranked fourth from last.
Hawaiian has been number one for three out of the last four years in the ratings, which are compiled by private researchers based on a combination of airlines' records in four categories: on-time performance, mishandled baggage, denied boardings due mostly to overbookings, and consumer complaints to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
AirTran has been battling Hawaiian for the top spot. It was number one three years ago and finished second last year as well.
Overall, fewer passengers boarded planes last year, but those who did were generally treated better than in the past. Planes were more likely to land on time and bags were less likely to get lost.
As a result, passengers reported fewer complaints even while cash-strapped airlines reduced flight schedules and charged for everything from bags and pillows to prime spots in boarding lines.
U.S. air travel surged to about 770 million passengers in 2007, when airline performance suffered a near meltdown. Performance began improving two years ago as the economy took a toll on air travel. Passengers dropped to about 750 million in 2008 and fell to 704 million last year.