ASA ranks low in Customer Service


'Tiger Team' Member
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Until last winter, most smaller airlines weren't included in a government report ranking customer service.

Officials at Atlantic Southeast Airlines may wish it had stayed that way.

In each of the four months from February through May, the Delta Air Lines subsidiary ranked worst of 17 airlines for mishandled baggage, and last or second-to-last in on-time performance, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In May, Atlantic Southeast's mishandled luggage rate of 14.88 per 1,000 passengers was more than four times the industrywide rate of 3.67. A spokesman says the airline is working on improvements.

The rankings in the monthly Air Travel Consumer Report, available at, are the first public glimpse of the regional carrier's performance. Until this year, Atlantic Southeast, also known as ASA or the Delta Connection, was too small to be included on the list, even though it has more than 250 daily flights from Hartsfield International Airport. The DOT last winter retooled the report to include more airlines.

The rankings are considered the most tangible yardstick of airline performance and are watched within the industry. Some airlines have based pay incentives on them.

On-time performance and lost luggage rates have improved for the industry overall since 2001, in part because of reduced traffic at the biggest airlines. The average traveler's chances of having a piece of baggage lost are small even at the worst performers.

But smaller airlines have kept growing, and there is wide disparity among carriers. In on-time performance in May, for instance, three airlines achieved 90 percent marks, while ASA was last at 73.9 percent.

Being added to the monthly rankings has been less embarrassing for AirTran Airways, another airline with a significant presence in Atlanta. AirTran has the third-best record for luggage handling and is in the middle of the pack for on-time arrivals since February, although it was third from last in May.

Chris McGinnis, an Atlanta-based business travel consultant, said he isn't surprised by ASA's poor showing. He said the airline has long been known for poor service, even after Delta took full ownership in 1999.

"This is nothing new to people who fly ASA," he said. "They have an awful reputation, and it's too bad, because supposedly when Delta bought ASA they were going to change that."

But while Delta has grown ASA's operations and speeded its conversion to small jets, McGinnis thinks the subsidiary's service "doesn't get the attention it needs," he said.

"They're like the ugly stepsister who doesn't really belong in the big fancy world of 777s."

Adding insult to injury, he says, ASA customers often must pay higher fares because the airline faces little competition on flights to small cities. "You've got people paying $600 for a midweek trip to Albany, Ga."

Delta referred questions about ASA to the subsidiary. ASA spokesman Kent Landers said the airline is working on service issues.

"There has been a lot of focus on baggage" since the airline was acquired by Delta, Landers said. He said ASA's track record for baggage used to be much worse.

"We know there are improvements that need to be made," he said, adding that is stressed in regular meetings with Delta officials. Landers said technological improvements should help.

This spring, ASA linked to Delta's computer system to prioritize baggage delivery for travelers with tight connections in Atlanta, Landers said.

The company hired 100 more people in Atlanta last year to boost on-time performance, Landers said.

To be sure, regional carriers face some service hurdles. Even those owned by larger carriers have separate work forces with less-experienced and lower-paid employees. More of their passengers are connecting to or from other flights, which multiplies the opportunities for luggage snafus or delays. In DOT reports this year, regional carriers Atlantic Coast Airlines and American Eagle Airlines also rank near the bottom for baggage complaints and on-time arrivals.

On the other hand, regional carrier SkyWest Airlines ranked high for on-time performance. SkyWest is an independent company that operates as Continental Connection, Delta Connection and United Express under contracts with those airlines.

Airlines with heavy schedules in Atlanta, including ASA, AirTran and Delta itself, haven't been helped by an unusually stormy spring.

AirTran's good record on baggage handling comes in part because it's one of four areas on which managers are judged, said spokesman Tad Hutcheson. The other areas are on-time performance, customer complaints and budgets.

He said AirTran's bag agents are told to double-check customers' destinations. "They ask, 'Where are you going?' and if the customer says 'Chicago,' the agent says, 'OK, I'm checking two bags to Chicago,' " Hutcheson said.

Along with AirTran, airlines that had consistently good records for baggage handling this spring included Alaska Airlines and Continental Airlines. Delta was average for both on-time performance and baggage complaints.
Is it ATL or ASA? Time well tell i suppose with Comair being given more flights in ATL. I must say ive been bitten by ASA in ATL more than once.