With the year 2012 coming to a close, and not speaking in apocalyptic terms if you’re into that thing, the annual holiday season is in full gear. You know what that means – more people are flying, and ticket prices are climbing. And because it’s the holidays the last thing flyers want are delayed/cancelled flights, lost baggage, and poor customer service. So, which airlines can we trust? Let’s find out.

If you plan on traveling to the eastern or midwestern United States, consider flying AirTran. They only received the best AQR (Airline Quality Rating) score for the year. With its main hub located in Atlanta, Georgia at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, AirTran has the best reputation for handling baggage, “with only 1.63 instances occurring per thousand passengers.” [1]

Before we continue let us first understand what Airline Quality Rating means. A statistical study conducted jointly by Dr. Dean Headley, professor at Wichita State University and Dr. Brent Bowen, professor at Purdue University, AQR scores are based on 15 elements in four major areas that focus on airline performance aspects important to air travel consumers. These areas include on-time arrivals, involuntary denied boards, mishandled baggage, and a combination of 12 customer complaint categories. [5]

The second best airline title goes to Hawaiian Airlines, who performed well in all four criteria. Their most reputable quality is getting people to their destination on time. “The highest of all the airlines surveyed, the airline had 92.8 percent or flights arrive on-time last year.” [1] Not only that, but Hawaiian airlines has never had a fatal accident in its entire 83 year history – making it the oldest US carrier to hold such a distinction. [2]

Besides having a few publicized incidents involving one emergency landing and one panic attack ridden Captain, JetBlue was ranked 3rd best airline by US news. The airline was able to lower the number of customer complaints, and they also have an extremely low denied boarding rate. [1] Their slogan says it all, “You above all.”

The best major carrier airline goes to Alaska Airlines. In the last year they’ve garnered a high on-time rate, and low number of denied boardings. Another plus?–this marks the fifth consecutive year that Alaska Airlines has won the J.D. Power Award; an award based on customer satisfaction, product quality, and buyer behavior. [3]

Plan on traveling with your pets? Then it’s probably best to avoid Delta Airlines. Though they received fewer costumer complaints this year, Delta is “responsible for the highest number of in-flight pet deaths in 2011.” [1] However, Delta had denied any animal mishandling and reported that several pets had medical issues prior to flight, some had to be euthanized after self inflicted injuries in their carriers, and one dog died before boarding due to respiratory complications. [4] The moral of this story? Get your pet checked out by a veterinarian and familiarize your animal with their carrier before your trip.

US Airways’ AQR score dropped due to fewer on-time arrivals, mishandled baggage, and customer complaint rates. At least they managed to reduce the number of denied boardings. Though, it may be safe to say US Airways has had it worse. Do you recall the flight from New York that made an emergency landing in the Hudson River, because a bird went through one of the engines, causing dual engine failure? Yeah, that was US Airways.

To see the complete list of America’s Best and Worst Airlines of 2012, just click this link: http://www.airlinequalityrating.com/reports/2012aqr.pdf.

[1] travel.usnews.com/gallery/Americas_Best_and_Worst_Airlines_2012
[2] www.hawaiianairlines.com/about/corporate/history.asp
[3] www.jdpower.com/consumer-ratings/recipients.htm
[4] http://shine.yahoo.com/pets/more-pets-died-delta-flights-2011-why-211100693.html
[5] http://www.airlinequalityrating.com/aboutaqr.htm

Photo Credit: – Dave Morrow –, digitonin and davidwatts1978 via photopin cc