Southwest Airlines, as always, had the lowest consumer complaint rate (0.18 per 100,000 passengers, neat) of all the major airlines in 2006. Yet it came in at only No. 5 on the Air Quality Rating 2007 report, issued today by Brent D. Bowen of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Dean Headley of Wichita State University. Turns out, Southwest has some issues, but they're very minor: According to the study, considered the best in the biz, Southwest's on-time arrival percentage dropped just a bit (80.2 percent last year, compared to 80.7 percent in 2005), while the airline's losing a little more luggage than it used to (it now has a "mishandled baggage rate" of 5.34 per 1,000 passengers, as oppose to 4.25 per 1,000 passengers for 2005).
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So, where's American Airlines in the report? Closer to the bottom than the top at No. 10, behind Hawaiian, Jet Blue, Air Tran, Frontier, Northwest, Southwest, Continental, United and Alaska and ahead of ATA, Delta, US Air, SkyWest, Mesa, COMAIR, American Eagle and Atlantic Southeast. Researchers are not impressed by American Airlines, which once more saw its annual score drop (fourth year in a row, ooof). Why come? Another drop in on-time arrivals (75.5 percentage in 2006 compared to 76.9 percent in 2005, which is well below the industry's average). That's just the start: Also plaguing American: "poorer performance in the areas of mishandled baggage, denied boardings and customer complaints." Color me stunned. --Robert Wilonsky