Monday, April 8, 2013

Airline rankings released to much joy among those on the United death watch.

Today's story that Virgin Airways is the "best" airline in terms of raw numbers of customer complaints has many in Houston who are oddly rooting for the death of United Airlines casting their Hosannas to the air travel gods.

You see, United has come in last.

Virgin America Best US airline performer in 2012, Joan Lowy, AP via Chron.com

Virgin America, headquartered in Burlingame, Calif., did the best job on baggage handling and had the second-lowest rate of passengers denied seats due to overbookings. United Airlines, whose consumer complaint rate nearly doubled last year, had the worst performance. United has merged with Continental Airlines, but has had rough spots in integrating the operations of the two carriers.

That last part is key.  United did struggle (mightily) with the task of merging the two companies operations, but they've improved (mightily) in recent months.  The last couple of flights that I've had on UA metal (Singapore, Vegas) have gone pretty seamless.  In fact, the wife and I have a lot of miles upcoming on UA metal and we're really not all that concerned.

Yes, things will go pear-shaped, there's always force majeurs to consider as well as mechanical issues on planes that spend a lot of time in operation, and the grounding of the 787 is a mess, but much of these are items outside of United's control.  All in all?  I'm a happy UA MileagePlus member right now. It doesn't hurt that I'm finding some good (not great) fares on United.com which are making this year's Gold qualification much cheaper than last.

Given all that I'm constantly amazed by the segment of Houstonians who are actively rooting for the demise of United.  Yes, they decided to keep their HQ in Chicago instead of Houston, mainly to take advantage of a sweetheart deal offered by the Windy City to do so and yes, they struggled, and their PR in dealing with IAH during the whole SouthWest/HOU deal was disastrous.  At times Smisek's PR shop seems as tone deaf as that of Jim Crane and the Astros.

Putting all of that aside, United still is the employer or record for many in Houston and they still have the best route network of anyone flying out of Houston.  Globally, it's not even close.

So looking at these numbers it doesn't seem that the prudent thing to do is to start dancing on United's grave, it's to hope that 2012 was the low point and things can only get better from here.  Based on real-world evidence, I'd say that is happening.

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