Which Airlines Were The Worst in 2015?

Spirit Airlines, American Airlines, and regional carriers lead the list

Was your airline among the worst carriers in 2015? DOT data may prove your bad experience was not unique.
••• Joe Raedle/Staff/Getty Images

Every year, travelers are exposed to a number of inconveniences far from home. Those who choose to fly across the United States are no exception. In the past year, travelers were subjected to new screening regulations by the Transportation Security Administration, and warned their drivers' licenses may not be enough to board a commercial aircraft.

However, some travelers' frustrations begin on the other side of the TSA security checkpoints.

After clearing into the "sterile area," travelers are often subjected to delayed flights, lost luggage, and even being bumped from their ticketed flights. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) keeps track of every situation domestic flyers face, and releases the yearly data every February.

Which airlines created the most problems for travelers in 2015? To draw a definitive answer, we considered the data from four perspectives: delayed flights, lost luggage, bumped travelers, and overall consumer complaints.

Flight Delays in 2015: Spirit Airlines, JetBlue, and Virgin America the least on-time

Every carrier has good days and bad days across their network. However, three airlines were discovered to have the most delayed arrivals of all 13 reporting carriers in the United States. Budget airline Spirit Airlines was discovered to be the worst offender, arriving to their destinations on time just over 69 percent of the time.

JetBlue came in second, with nearly 30 percent of their flights arriving past their scheduled time. Virgin America did not come in much better, as the trendsetting carrier only arrived on time around 71 percent of the time.

Overall, nearly 78 percent of all flights in the United States arrived at their destination on schedule.

According to the DOT, the biggest contributors to late flights include late arriving aircraft, air carrier imposed delays, and national aviation system delays.

Mishandled Luggage in 2015: American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and Delta Air Lines had the most

Travelers never wish to have their luggage missing or damaged upon arrival to their final destination. However, this exact situation happened over 1.9 million times in 2015, with a national average of around three bags mishandled per 1,000 passengers aboard a commercial aircraft. Of the domestic air carriers, Southwest Airlines lost the most luggage: flying over 144 million passengers throughout the year, the airline received over 478,000 reports of mishandled luggage, for an average of just over three bags mishandled per 1,000 passengers. Just behind them was American Airlines, mishandling over 386,000 bags for over 97 million passengers flown – or approximately four mishandled bags per 1,000 flyers. Delta Air Lines had the third highest reports, mishandling over 245,000 bags among over 117 million passengers.  

However, the worst ratio of lost luggage to passengers belong to three regional carriers: Envoy Air, ExpressJet, and SkyWest Airlines.

Often operating smaller flights for the major air carriers, these three airlines lost a combined average of nearly six bags per 1,000 flyers.

Bumped Travelers in 2015: Southwest, American, and United Airlines Bumped the Most

Overselling is a common practice among airlines to ensure all seats aboard any given flight will be filled, thus maximizing their overall profit margin. However, when all the passengers show up, the potential of bumping ticketed flight holders exists. Southwest Airlines had the most involuntarily denied boarding incidents in 2015, stopping 15,608 travelers from getting to their final destination. American Airlines had the second highest amount, involuntarily denying 7,504 flyers. United Came in third, involuntarily denying 6,317 travelers boarding their flights.

Many airlines deny boarding involuntarily as a last resort, as compensating passengers can be costly.

If a flyer cannot complete their ticketed flight, they can be compensated in cash for their delay under U.S. Law.

Consumer Complaints in 2015: Spirit, Frontier Airlines, and American lead the pack

When travelers have problems with their airlines, there are several avenues of recourse they can take in order to receive resolution. The DOT Aviation Consumer Protection Division collects complaints from travelers, with an attempt to create a resolution. Budget carrier Spirit Airlines had the most complaints, registering 11.73 complaints for every 100,000 travelers. Fellow budget carrier Frontier Airlines ranked second, with travelers filing 7.86 complaints per 100,000 enplanements. Finally, American Airlines had the third most complaints, with 3.36 complaints per 100,000 enplanements. Comparatively, fellow major carriers United Airlines had 2.85 complaints, Delta Air Lines had 1.74 complaints, and Southwest had 0.52 complaints per 100,000 travelers.

Although these numbers are representative of all travelers' problems in 2015, your experience may vary. By understanding these numbers, flyers can prepare for trip delays, cancellations, lost luggage and other situations before arriving at the airport.