The Worst Airlines in 2012

Airlines have been a constant source of frustration for travelers and they did slightly worse in 2012. These five had the least satisfied passengers based on criteria like mishandled baggage and on-time arrival.

Airlines have been a constant source of frustration for travelers with delays, disappearing complimentary items and constantly increasing fees. And 2012 was a very bad year for airlines, according to a new report on passenger complaints.

The U.S. Department of Transportation received 11,445 complaints from passengers, which was up from just 9,414 in 2011, according to the 2013 Airline Quality Ratings (AQR) report, conducted by Dean Headley, professor at Wichita State University, and Brent Bowen, professor at Purdue University.

The AQR system factors things like on-time arrivals, mishandled baggage, customer complaints and involuntary denied boardings for 14 different airlines: AirTran Airways, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, American Eagle, Delta Air Lines, ExpressJet, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, SkyWest Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways and Virgin America.

While customer complaints increased by 22% from 2011, the overall industry score was only slightly lower in 2012 — the on-time arrival percentage and mishandled baggage rates improved; however, involuntary denied boardings increased along with customer complaints.

The most common complaints, by far, were about flight problems (32.7%), followed by reservations, ticketing and boarding (14.6%) and customer service (14.3%).

While Virgin America ranked first for the best passenger experience, here are the five airlines that passengers were least satisfied with in 2012.

5. American Airlines (-1.11)

2012 on-time arrivals: 77%

2011 on-time arrivals: 78%

2012 mishandled baggage rate: 2.92 per 1,000 passengers

2011 mishandled baggage rate: 3.55

2012 involuntary denied boardings: 0.73 per 10,000 passengers

2011 involuntary denied boardings: 0.92

2012 customer complaints: 1.80 per 100,000 passengers

2011 customer complaints: 1.46

4. American Eagle (-1.78)

2012 on-time arrival: 82%

2011 on-time arrivals: 77%

2012 mishandled baggage rate: 5.80

2011 mishandled baggage rate: 7.32

2012 involuntary denied boardings: 1.07

2011 involuntary denied boardings: 2.24

2012 customer complaints: 1.27

2011 customer complaints: 1.45

3. SkyWest Airlines (-1.88 score)

2012 on-time arrival: 82%

2011 on-time arrivals: 79%

2012 mishandled baggage rate: 5.26

2011 mishandled baggage rate: 4.13

2012 involuntary denied boardings: 2.32

2011 involuntary denied boardings: 0.68

2012 customer complaints: 0.88

2011 customer complaints: 0.73

2. ExpressJet (-1.95)

2012 on-time arrival: 77%

2011 on-time arrivals: 75%

2012 mishandled baggage rate: 5.52

2011 mishandled baggage rate: 4.82

2012 involuntary denied boardings: 2.13

2011 involuntary denied boardings: 1.82

2012 customer complaints: 1.07

2011 customer complaints: 1.04

1. United Airlines (-2.18)

(In 2011 United and Continental were still separate airlines)

2012 on-time arrival: 77%

United 2011 on-time arrivals: 80%

Continental 2011 on-time arrivals: 77%

2012 mishandled baggage rate: 3.87

United 2011 mishandled baggage rate: 3.66

Continental 2011 mishandled baggage rate: 3.35

2012 involuntary denied boardings: 1.83

United 2011 involuntary denied boardings: 1.01

Continental 2011 involuntary denied boardings: 1.49

2012 customer complaints: 4.24

United 2011 customer complaints: 2.21

Continental 2011 customer complaints: 1.81