Since its inception in 1991, the Airline Quality Rating has been the hallmark in airline ranking by looking at all aspects of hospitality, comfort, and timeliness. The report is co-authored by Dr. Dean Headley a professor at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University professor Dr. Brent Bowen.

Virgin Airlines

“Virgin has great policies, they’re pretty much on time… they’re a great system,” says Dr. Dean Headley, one of the study’s co-authors. “But I suspect as they grow and and their system becomes more complex, they’ll face more challenges.”

Virgin Airlines beats JetBlue

For the second year in a row Virgin Airlines beat out JetBlue Airways Corporation (NASDAQ:JBLU) for the top spot, while third saw a newcomer in Hawaiian Airlines. Delta maintained its place at the number four spot, which is somewhat surprising. It held that spot for a second year after its merger with Northwest Airlines, surprising Dr. Bowen. He explained that when large airlines merge a decline in customer satisfaction generally follows.

“It’s scientifically proven whenever you combine two large airlines, especially two average performing airlines you get one worse performing airline,” says Bowen. However, “a former merged legacy carrier has bucked that trend… I think what this is saying is if management wants to make it happen, and wants to turn it around and knows the right formula, they can do it.”

Virgin Airlines came in high at 1.28 customer complaints per 100,000 passengers compared to the industry standard 1.13. This, however, may simply show that full-price carriers by nature elicit more complaints given their pricing and higher expectations.

This year’s dog house is occupied by fifteenth-ranked American Eagle, which came in well below average in all four measured criteria; 72.1% on-time arrivals, 1.14 denied boardings per 10,000 passengers, 5.90 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers, and 1.7 customer complaints per 100,000 passengers.

Why bother complaining?

It appears that those that fly regularly just can’t be asked to complain at the rate they once did. Why prolong a terrible experience by spending hours on the phone reliving it?

“Either consolidation didn’t have as huge an impact on customers as we thought it would,” says Headley, “Or people just gave up and said, ‘It’s going to be messy, live with it.’ They may have turned into more cynical consumers.”

Either way, today’s report is a huge boost for Virgin which showed that last year’s report wasn’t simply a flash in the pan.