Recent news about airlines could have travelers checking Amtrak and Greyhound schedules. Airplane seats keep getting squeezed. Choosing a seat at the time of booking now costs more on many airlines. So does carrying on an overnight bag. Add to these irritating policy changes some truly bad behavior. It was just a year ago that a Kentucky doctor was dragged off a United flight, winding up with a bloodied face and broken glasses.

So, this may come as a surprise: Airline performance is improving.

That’s the finding of the latest Airline Quality Rating (AQR), an annual research project of Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University that analyzes airline performance records and consumer complaints registered with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

The report, released April 10, shows that the airline industry served fliers better in 2017 than in previous years. In fact, the 2017 overall score is the best ever in the 27-year history of the AQR.

Airlines have gotten better in three key areas. The rate of mishandled bags dropped from 2.70 per 1,000 passengers in 2016 to 2.46 per 1,000 in 2017. Involuntary denied boardings — like the doctor, who was actually denied a seat even after he boarded — went to 0.34 per 10,000 passengers in 2017 from 0.62 per 10,000 in 2016.

Consumer complaints also fell by 10 percent. Of the 11,570 gripes registered with the DOT, 74 percent were for flight problems, baggage problems, reservation, ticketing and boarding issues, or customer service problems.

Performance dropped in only one area tracked: On-time arrivals were down slightly, at 80.2 percent in 2017.

Alaska Airlines ranked tops in the report and Delta Air Lines was second, based on 15 elements of airline performance “important to air travel consumers over the calendar year of 2017,” according to the report.

Though Delta rated well, its overall score was down slightly from last year. Two other airlines — Alaska and Virgin America — also scored lower this year.

JetBlue, a relative newcomer to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport with current service only to Boston, ranked third place overall in the AQR.

 

Send questions or tips to Travel Editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on Twitter: @kerriwestenberg.