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Special Event

New Survey Finds Quality of Airline Service Declined in 2000

Aired April 2, 2001 - 9:34 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the airline industry has promised to upgrade service and performance. A report on just how the airlines lived up to those promises is being released this morning.

Let's go now to Washington and CNN's tan, rested and ready Jeanne Meserve back from vacation -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Back from vacation. But I wish I was tan, rested and ready, Leon.

(LAUGHTER)

MESERVE: The bottom line is: This survey says that the airlines have not lived up to their promises. This is the is 11th annual "Airline Quality Rating" survey conducted by researchers at Wichita State University and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

It looked at the number of criteria for the year 2000. And this is what it found: that the percentage of on-time flights is down to 72.6 percent. That is a drop of 3.5 percent from 1999. Passenger complaints, meanwhile, are up 20 percent. They say there is more loss and mishandled baggage. The number: 5.2 lost and mishandled pieces per 1,000. That is up from 5.08 per 1,000 in 1999. And the survey says that more passengers were bumped against their will from airline flight.

Now, they will be rating 10 airlines using these various criteria. Last year, the winner was Southwest Airlines. We are waiting to hear at this hour who the winner this year will be. Right now, we are looking at a live picture from the National Press Club, where this survey is going to be announced. With Congress threatening to pass a passengers' bill of rights, the airline say they will improve service and that they have, to a certain degree.

They say the ongoing problems have a lot to do with an antiquated air traffic control system. Others blame a shortage of capacity in a system where an ever-growing number of people are flying -- Leon, back to you.

HARRIS: It's kind of hard to blame the air traffic controllers for the lost baggage, you know?

MESERVE: It's true.

HARRIS: Well, let me ask you something: Is the overall sense of this entire report expected to be totally negative here?

MESERVE: Don't know if it is going to be totally negative, but as we just said, I cited four of the survey criteria that they looked at. And in each of those, the figures are down. So one has to infer from the little that we know so far that it's a bleaker picture for American travelers -- Leon.

HARRIS: Does the report mention any particular airline by name as being the best or the worst in any particular category?

MESERVE: It will do that. It will do that. It looks at 10 different airlines. As I mentioned, last year, the winner was Southwest. But it also looks at Alaska, America West, American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, TWA, United and US Airways. They will be ranking these. But we don't know yet, Leon, what the rankings will be.

HARRIS: All right. Well, it looks like the press conference is about to get under way.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JOHN BEEHLER, DEAN, WICHITA STATE BUSINESS SCHOOL: ... the "National Airline Quality Rating" report. I am John Beehler, the dean of the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University.

The "Airline Quality Rating" is conducted annually by the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University and the University of Nebraska at Omaha Aviation Institute. The AQR, as an industry standard, provides consumers and industry watchers with the means to compare quality among airlines using objective, performance- based data.

It is a cooperative research project funded as part of faculty research activities at WSU and University of Nebraska at Omaha. Presenting the "Airline Quality Rating" report today will be Brent Bowen, director and professor of the Aviation Institute at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Dean Headley, associate professor and Barton fellow at Wichita State University's Barton School of Business.

Dr. Headley is also a research associate at the National Institute for Aviation Research at Wichita State University. Dr. Bowen and Dr. Headley will take your questions after their presentation. So, at this time, I would like to introduce Dr. Brent Bowen and Dr. Dean Headley.

BRENT BOWEN, DIR., AVIATION INSTITUTE, UNIV. OF NEBRASKA: Good morning. I am Brent Bowen, University of Nebraska at Omaha.

I am pleased to be here this morning to announce the top winner for the "National Airline Quality Rating" for the year 2000 as Delta Airlines. This is the first year that Delta Airlines has been named the No. 1 airline in the country, as measured objectively by the "Airline Quality Rating." Following in order of their ranking: Second is the Alaska Airlines, followed by Southwest Airlines in the third position. Then we have in the fourth position US Airways, followed by the Northwest Airlines in the fifth position. Following is American Airlines, coming in with the rating of sixth, followed by Continental at seven. TWA held the eighth position for the year 2000, followed by United at nine and America West in the 10th position.

As an industry, we noted an overall decline in the ratings again. The overall U.S. major airline industry did decline for the year 2000.

And, Dean?

DEAN HEADLEY, PROFESSOR, WICHITA STATE UNIVERSITY: OK, thank you, Brent.

Some detail that goes with this -- you might look in the reports that you have. You can look at the individual detail for various things. But I thought we would cover a few highlights. As Brent said, the industry declined as a whole again this year. We monitor four particular categories: on-time performance, mishandled baggage, involuntary denied boardings, and the range of the consumer complaints.

One of the stories, I believe, is that all four of those categories got worse this year. In 1999, the airlines promised to do better, a voluntary promise. While their efforts may be admirable and may be even noticeable in some areas, for the most part, when we look at 2000, which is a full year of their effort to implement, all four of these things got worse.

MESERVE: And there you have it: The winner this year in the "Airline Quality Rating" survey is Delta Airlines, the first time they have won it. Last year's winner, Southwest, declined to No. 3. Alaska Airlines placed second -- the authors of this report saying that, overall, the quality of airline service has declined in the U.S., despite promises to improve it -- back to you in Atlanta.

HARRIS: All right, good deal. Thanks much, Jeanne. We'll see you in a little bit.

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