Airtran Beats Out Hawaiian as Highest Quality Airline

An annual airline quality study shows that the industry overall is improving despite higher prices, though some of its top winners from last year slipped in 2010.

Of the 16 carriers rated in both 2009 and 2010, nine carriers improved and seven declined in Airline Quality Rating scores. Atlantic Southeast had the largest improvement in overall score, while Frontier and Hawaiian (NYSE:HA) posted big declines.

AirTran, which will soon be purchased by Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV), scored the highest in the study, beating out last year’s winner Hawaiian, which slipped to second place.

Rounding out the top five in the study conducted by Purdue University and Wichita State University were Jet Blue (NASDAQ:JBLU), Alaska (NYSE:ALK) and Southwest, which intends to close its takeover of Airtran in the next few months.

The airlines were judged in a variety of areas including on-time arrivals, mishandled baggage and a combination of 12 customer complaint categories.

There were more than 9,000 complaints registered last year with the Department of Transportation, half of which were for either flight problems or baggage handling issues.

The industry as a whole, though, seems to be improving, helped by better industry performance in three of the four areas tracked, including on-time arrival, mishandled baggage and involuntary denied boardings per passenger.