Airline Snapshot: Best and Worst

PHOTO: Which Airline was the Best/Worst in Nov. 2012?Getty Images
Which Airline was the Best/Worst in Nov. 2012?

I have a recurring nightmare where Alex Trebek asks me millions of questions about air travel but I keep forgetting to answer in the form of a question. No such worries for you with this quiz, so let's see how well you know your airlines.

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Rick's Quiz: Which Airline was the Best/Worst in November 2012?

I want to be clear: what follows does not necessarily indicate an airline trend or prediction for the future. That's because all questions are based on the latest U.S. government statistics which cover a single month - November 2012 only (unless otherwise noted). Do not take what follows as That's The Way It Is, because it may not be that way now. Airline statistics change, sometimes from week to week, sometimes from month to month, depending on a host of factors such as weather or computer glitches as a result of merged operations. This is a single snapshot from last November only.

1. Which airline lost the most bags?

A. Virgin America

B. American Eagle

C. Southwest

The answer is B. American Eagle received 5.1 reports of baggage problems per every 1,000 passengers flown. Virgin America lost the smallest percentage of bags, amassing a mere .61 complaint rate for mishandled bags. Perhaps it should be noted that American Eagle typically flies small aircraft to smaller airports which may not always have the finely-honed operations of bigger facilities. By the way, your luggage is rarely lost forever - it eventually turns up - which is why the statistic-keepers refer to these problems as "mishandled baggage" incidents.

2. Which airline arrived on-time most often?

A. Hawaiian

B. JetBlue

C. Delta

The answer is A. If you're looking for a reason for Hawaiian's stellar performance let's just say that Honolulu's noticeable lack of snow speaks for itself. AirTran came in second place but number three may surprise some folks: Delta.

3. When is a flight officially "late"?

A. If it arrives/departs within a half hour of the scheduled time

B. If it arrives/departs between 15 and 30 minutes of the scheduled time

C. If it arrives/departs more than 15 minutes after the scheduled time

The answer is C. An on-time flight must operate within 15 minutes of the scheduled arrival or departure time.

4. What was the biggest reason for delayed flights?

A. Extreme weather

B. Late arriving aircraft

C. Air carrier delay

The answer is B. Delays involving late arriving aircraft occurred in almost 5 percent of all flights and as you might guess, one late airplane can create a cascading effect that lasts throughout a day. Bad weather was officially a factor in just .22 percent of all flights - yes, even in wintry November - while "air carrier delay" was the second biggest factor, defined as delays due to "circumstances within an airline's control" such as maintenance or crew problems. My two cents: I suspect weather could well be the underlying culprit for many delays since snowy weather holding up a Los Angeles-bound plane in Newark could result in a "late arriving aircraft."

5. What generated the most airline complaints?

A. Baggage

B. Flight problems

C. Customer service

The answer is B. The term "flight problems" encompasses anything from cancelations to delays or missed connections. Complaints about baggage came in second, and complaints about reservations, ticketing and boarding took third place. Customer service complaints came in fourth.

6. Which airline had the worst record for complaints?

A. United

B. Southwest

C. US Airways

The answer is A. United had a total of 162 complaints which worked out to 2.33 per 100,000 passengers flown. Southwest had the best record with just 15 complaints (for a rate of 0.16) and US Airways was roughly in the middle with 66 complaints (1.47). It should be noted that only complaints lodged with the Department of Transportation are counted in this tally; it does not include angry emails and letters sent directly to the offending airline.

7. Which airline bumped the most passengers (from January to September 2012)?

A. JetBlue

B. American

C. Mesa

The answer is C. Mesa racked up an "involuntary bumping" rate of 2.49 "denied boardings" for every 10,000 passengers. JetBlue bumped the fewest. American was roughly in the middle.

8. Which airline is the best?

A. Whichever one gets you and your belongings to the correct destination on-time, every time you fly.

That's the only possible answer and yes I do wish I could be more specific!

The opinions expressed by Rick Seaney are his alone and not those of ABC News.