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U.S. airlines set new performance low in 2007

The nation's airlines performed worse last year than in any other year since 2000, according to one of the co-authors of an annual report on quality.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The nation's airlines performed worse last year than in any other year since 2000, according to one of the co-authors of an annual report on quality.

Full details of the Airline Quality Rating report, which measures how well the airlines minimize the hassles of flying, will be released Monday.

"They went down in all criteria. Every one of them," study co-author Brent Bowen said Friday about the airline industry average.

Bowen wouldn't discuss many details of the report before its release. But he said low-cost airlines performed better than national airlines, and the top three airlines in 2007 were all low-cost carriers.

Only one national airline improved its overall quality rating, said Bowen, who is a professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Aviation Institute.

The report's ratings are based on how many delays the airlines have, how often passengers are bumped off flights, how often bags are lost and how many complaints airlines receive.

The quality report will only add to a string of bad news for the airlines, which have been hurt by a slowing economy, high fuel prices and maintenance concerns.

ATA Airlines and Aloha Airlines both stopped flying earlier this week after filing for bankruptcy protection. And American, Southwest and Delta airlines have all had to cancel flights recently to address safety concerns about some of their aircraft.

Those recent problems won't be included in the quality report because it deals with 2007 Transportation Department data. But the Airline Quality Rating report will include data on the nation's 16 largest airlines.

It has been compiled annually since 1991, but Bowen said the available data changed in 2000 so the latest findings can't be compared with airline performance in the 1990s. The research is sponsored by the Aviation Institute at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Wichita State University.

Bowen said he and the report's co-author, Wichita State University associate professor Dean Headley, plan to expand their scrutiny of the airline industry with new quarterly updates that will supplement the annual reports.

The quarterly updates also will include responses from consumer surveys Bowen and Headley plan to conduct. Consumers who register at the Airline Quality Rating Web site, will have a chance to weigh in on airline performance on a regular basis.

And Bowen said he hopes the airlines will use the new quarterly surveys to improve their performance, similar to the way they have responded to the annual quality report in the past.

"We're doing it for the benefit of the traveling public," he said.

The full Airline Quality Ratings will be released Monday at a Washington, D.C., news conference at the National Press Club.