Who’s No. 1? Airline Quality Rating Report to Reveal Top Carriers of 2015

As Virgin America claimed the top spot for the fourth consecutive year, overall U.S. airline performance improved slightly in 2015, according to the 26th annual Airline Quality Rating (AQR), released today (Monday, April 4) at the National Press Club in Washington.

The AQR is a joint research project funded as part of faculty research activities at Wichita State University (Wichita, Kansas) and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Arizona, campus.

Research Translates to More Opportunities for Students

In an age where massive amounts of data are being collected, professionals with the skills to turn that data into actionable outcomes are essential. A study by McKinsey projects that “by 2018, the U.S. alone may face a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytic skills,” but a couple of Embry-Riddle Prescott students are ready to help fill that void.

“I didn’t realize just how large the research industry is and how much people are interested in research,” said Catie Willard, student researcher and freshman in Aviation Business Administration.


The Airline Quality Rating (AQR) was developed and first announced in early 1991 as an objective method of comparing airline quality on combined multiple performance criteria. This current report reflects monthly AQR scores for the past calendar year. AQR scores for the calendar year are based on 15 elements in four major areas that focus on airline performance aspects important to air travel consumers.

The research monograph contains a brief summary of the AQR methodology, detailed data and charts that track comparative quality for domestic airline operations and overall industry results.

The AQR is a summary of month-by-month quality ratings for U.S. airlines that have at least 1% of domestic passenger volume. Using the AQR system of weighted averages and monthly performance data in the areas of on-time arrivals, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled baggage, and a combination of 12 customer complaint categories, airlines' comparative performance for the calendar year is reported.

The national AQR is the premier statistical study of major airline performance in the United States. The AQR is conducted jointly by Dr. Dean Headley, professor at Wichita State University and Dr. Brent Bowen, Dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.

Please participate in the Airline Quality Rating consumer survey. Your responses will aid AQR researchers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Wichita State University in identifying ways to improve quality and performance in the airline industry.


The Airline Quality Rating (AQR) is the most comprehensive study of the performance and quality of the 13 largest airlines in the United States. The rating is a multifactor look of the airlines based on mishandled baggage, consumer complaints, on-time performance and involuntary denied boardings.

Of the 13 carriers rated for performance, 6 airlines showed improvement in AQR scores in 2015. The overall industry AQR score improved for 2015. Improved performance was seen in three of the four areas tracked. However, the 37% increase in the rate of consumer complaints in 2015 over 2014 suggests, even with improved performance in important areas, that consumers are still finding problems with how airlines deliver their services.

  1. Virgin America
  2. JetBlue Airways
  3. Delta Air Lines
  4. Hawaiian Airlines
  5. Alaska Airlines
  6. Southwest Airlines
  7. Skywest Airlines
  8. United Airlines
  9. ExpressJet Airlines
  10. American Airlines
  11. Frontier Airlines
  12. Envoy Air
  13. Spirit Airlines

The industry rate of mishandled baggage decreased from 3.62 per 1,000 passengers in 2014 to 3.24 in 2015.

Frontier, Hawaiian, Jet Blue, Skywest, Southwest & United improved their denied boardings rate in 2015.

Alaska had the lowest consumer complaint rate of all airlines in 2015. Their consumer complaint rate was 0.50/100,000 passengers.

Hawaiian, Alaska and Delta held the top three on-time arrival performances in 2015.

Download 2016 AQR Airline Trend Infographic


Dr. Brent Bowen

Dr. Brent Bowen

As an industry consultant, pilot and former fixed-base operator, and 
scheduled air carrier operator, Bowen has been an invited expert witness before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government 
Operations and an invited speaker and panelist. Bowen holds a Doctorate in Aviation Sciences from Oklahoma State University and a Master of Business 
Administration degree from Oklahoma City University. His Federal Aviation Administration certifications include Airline Transport Pilot (Type-rated 
Douglas DC-3 SIC), Certified Flight Instructor (SEL, MEL, Instrument) with Gold Seal, Advanced-Instrument Ground Instructor, Aviation Safety 
Counselor, and Aerospace Education Counselor. 

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
3700 Willow Creek Road
Prescott, AZ 86301-3720 

Office: (928) 777-6617 

Dr. Dean E. Headley

Dr. Dean E. Headley

Associate Professor of Marketing in the Department of Marketing at the W. Frank Barton School of Business, Wichita State University. He holds a 
Doctorate in Marketing and Statistics from Oklahoma State University, a Master of Business Administration Degree from Wichita State University, and a Master of Public Health Degree from the University of Oklahoma. Dr. Headley's research interests include methodology development for 
measurement of service quality, the connection between service quality and consumer behavior, consumer choice processes in service settings, and the effects of marketing activities on consumers and providers of services.

Wichita State University
W. Frank Barton School of Business
304 Clinton Hall
Wichita, KS 67260-0084 

Office: (316) 978-3367
Fax: (316) 978-3276