Virgin America

Virgin America remains at the top of the annual airline quality report released earlier this week, with JetBlue and Hawaiian Airlines trailing close behind.

Delta came in fourth for the second year in a row, despite scientific data that proves declining performance when two large carriers merge (Delta merged with Northwest in 2008).

The survey, compiled by researchers for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Wichita State University, evaluated the 15 biggest carriers in the U.S. based on performance markers such as on-time flights and mishandled bags, and the airline industry hit its highest point in 24 years despite a decline in those areas.

Airlines bale to invest more in systems and personnel due to larger profits, and that leads to more satisfied passengers, according to the report’s co-author Brent Bowen, who is the dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott, Arizona campus.

“It’s a combination of giving more priority to customer service…and the fact that airlines have returned to a level of acceptable profitability,” Bowen told USA Today.

Southwest, long-heralded for its steady profits and high consumer scores but also saw declining performance in mishandled baggage and on-time performance, hovered in the eighth spot. Frontier, US Airways and American Eagle saw declining performances as well.

How did your favorite airline stack up?

2013 Airline Quality Rankings (2012 rankings in parentheses)

  1. Virgin America (1)
  2. JetBlue (2)
  3. Hawaiian (5)
  4. Delta (4)
  5. Alaska (6)
  6. Endeavor (new to the rankings this year, formerly Pinnacle)
  7. US Airways
  8. Southwest (8)
  9. American (10)
  10. AirTran (3)
  11. Frontier (7)
  12. United (14)
  13. ExpressJet (13)
  14. SkyWest (12)
  15. American Eagle (11)