Airlines' Performance Near 20-year Low

US airlines' operational performance in 2007 was the worst in almost 20 years, according to a study released Monday.

The 18th annual Airline Quality Rating showed that domestic carriers' performance dropped in on-time arrival, involuntary bumping, mishandled luggage and customer complaints, compared with 2006. None of the large carriers improved their scores from 2006.

The study, by Dean Headley of Wichita State University and Brent Bowen of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is largely based on industry data reported to the U.S. Transportation Department.

"With the US airline industry at rock-bottom in terms of overall performance, greater accountability is necessary," Bowen said in a statement. "It is very difficult for air travel consumers to have a collective voice."

Demand for air travel is at historic highs, leading to fuller planes and tighter schedules. Airlines are also cutting costs as they grapple with high fuel prices.

Darryl Jenkins, an industry consultant, said air traffic congestion in the New York area contributed to last year's problems.

"It's a mess. You back up New York, you back up the world," he said.

The US airlines' trade group, the Air Transport Association, declined to comment on the report Monday.

Jenkins said frequent fliers wouldn't be surprised by the report's main findings, given numerous reports of delays and cancellations throughout the year. "We already knew 2007 was a bad year. It was by far the worst year." The study's findings covered:

*Delays. For the 16 airlines ranked, more than a quarter of their flights arrived late last year, vs. 24.5 percent in 2006.

American, Northwest and US Airways were the worst performers among large carriers. Less than 70 percent of their flights arrived on time.

*Bumping. More passengers were involuntarily bumped from seats on overbooked flights last year — at a rate of 1.14 per 10,000 passengers — than a year earlier. Regional airlines Atlantic Southeast and Comair had the highest rates of bumping.

Delta was worst among large carriers.

*Complaints. The rate of consumer complaints reported to the DOT rose to 1.42 per 100,000 passengers, vs. 0.88 in 2006. US Airways drew the most complaints, followed by United and Delta.

*Baggage. Airlines received seven complaints about mishandled bags for every 1,000 passengers, up from 6.5. American Eagle and Comair, respectively, were the worst performers in the baggage category. US Airways was the worst among large carriers.

Hawaiian Airlines, No. 1 in last year's survey, was not included in this year's report.