Best airlines – rated.

Courtesy SFO Museum

Courtesy SFO Museum

Virgin America had a big day yesterday: it not only was named the best airline in the U.S. in the annual Airline Quality Rating study, but it was announced the airline was bought by Alaska Airlines – the airline the study named the fifth best.

Here are this year’s Airline Quality Rating rankings for 2015, with the 2014 ranking in parentheses:

Virgin America (1)
JetBlue (4)
Delta (3)
Hawaiian (2)
Alaska (5)
Southwest (6)
SkyWest (10)
United (9)
ExpressJet (11)
American (7)
Frontier (8)
Envoy Air (12)
Spirit (new to rating in 2015)

The annual Airline Quality Rating is a highly regarded study that compares metrics for everything from on-time performance to customer complaints and is a joint venture between Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and DWichita State University.

The report concludes that overall, the airline industry collectively improved in three of the four core elements traced by the AQR study: on-time performance, rate of involuntary denied boardings, and the rate of mishandled baggage.

But the rate of customer complaints increased to its highest level in 15 years, per passenger served.

Other tidbits from the report:

On-time performance: Hawaiian Airlines had the best on-time performance (88.4 percent) for 2015, and Spirit had the worst (69.0 percent).

Involuntary denied boardings: Least (best): JetBlue and Hawaiian, with a rate of 0.02 and 0.03 per 10,000 passengers, respectively. Envoy (2.35), ExpressJet (1.86) and SkyWest (1.78) had the highest involuntary denied boarding rates per 10,000 passengers.

Baggage handling: Virgin America had the best baggage handling rate (0.84 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers) of all airlines, and Envoy Air had the worst baggage handling rate (8.52 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers).

Consumer complaints: Alaska had the lowest consumer complaint rate (0.50 per 100,000 passengers) of all airlines. Spirit had the highest consumer complaint rate (11.73 per 100,000 passengers).

See the full report here.

The tech connected flight attendant


Don’t be alarmed if the cabin attendants on your next flight seem to be spending a lot of time looking at their personal electronic devices.

They’re not checking Facebook, watching the latest cute cat video on YouTube or posting to Instagram or Twitter about the antics of the jerk in Row 12.

More likely they’re using their airline-issued digital devices to determine which passengers will have tight – or impossible – connections, who’s having a birthday and who is entitled to a complimentary drink.

In the same way mobile technology has lightened the loads of pilots by replacing pounds of paper charts and manuals with programmed iPads, apps on mobile devices that can conduct sales and access passenger information are changing the way flight attendants work in and out of the cabin – and helping airlines improve their bottom line.

Read more about how new tech devices for flight attendants are helping to upgrade passenger services in a story I wrote for Fortune.

Souvenir Sunday: Airport Tower gifts

It’s Souvenir Sunday – a day we look at some of the fun, inexpensive things you can get at airports or, today, aviation museums.

Through November, 2016, the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum is hosting an impressive exhibition of photographs by Carolyn Russo exploring the Art of the Airport Tower.

Reagan National Airport , photo by Carolyn Russo

Reagan National Airport tower, photo by Carolyn Russo

StuckatTheAirport.com reader Robert Little went to see the exhibition and enjoyed it so much he went home with some Art of the Airport Tower souvenirs – and sent along these photos for Souvenir Sunday.

(As a thank-you for participating in Souvenir Sunday, I’m sending Robert a collectible airplane model. Don’t tell him.)

Art of the airport tower souvenirs 2

Airport Tower souvenirs

There’s a nice sampling of Russo’s photos accompanying this interview I did with her for NBC online, but I’m sure seeing the images in person are far better. And, if you’re a fan of great photography and/or aviation (or know someone who is), I’d encourage you to buy the Art of the Airport Tower book.

Airport control towers as art

LaGuardia Airport

I had the great pleasure of speaking with photographer Carolyn Russo about her book Art of the Airport Tower and the companion exhibition at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum for this story on NBC News.

The book is now on my holiday wish list and I’m planning a trip to Washington, D.C. so I can see the images on display. See you there.. .

A chance glance out the window as her flight landed at New York’s LaGuardia airport in 2006 led photographer Carolyn Russo to discover beauty in an unusual place – the port-holed façade of the control tower. And it ultimately led to a new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and a companion book celebrating airport control towers worldwide.

“(I) saw that tower and thought, ‘Oh my god, this thing is gorgeous!” It really did look like Swiss Cheese,” said Carolyn Russo, a staff photographer and museum specialist at the Air & Space Museum.

Russo went on to photograph the LaGuardia tower, along with 84 other historical and contemporary towers in 23 countries. And she came to see the structures as “unsung heroes … non-judgmental cultural greeters” and important city landmarks.

“I want people to have a greater appreciation for an artifact in the airport landscape that is too big to put in a museum collection,” said Russo.

Reagan National Airport

Reagan National Airport

The tower at Los Angeles International Airport is one of Russo’s favorites, “because it was built specifically to be an iconic landmark that people notice.” She also delights in a tower in Abu Dhabi created to look like a crescent and, to her, a flowing robe, and the tower at Kuala Lumpur airport intended to look like a tree to blend in with the “airport in a forest” design.

LAX control tower

LAX control tower

Stockholm Arlanda Airport

Stockholm Arlanda Airport

At the Stockholm-Arlanda Airport, the control tower designer put two cab-like pieces at the top meant to symbolize two ravens from Norse mythology.

“That’s also the only tower I know of where you can pay a fee and get married at the top,” says Russo. “That doesn’t happen where the controllers sit, but you get champagne, chocolate-covered strawberries and this amazing view.”

To find the perfect spot to take a control tower’s portrait, Russo worked with the Federal Aviation Administration, with airport authorities, governments and air traffic control agencies around the world.

Photos of some contemporary towers don’t look like towers at all, due to the unusual angle Russo chose, but for many historical towers, “I photographed them objectively and tried to make them timepieces left behind from another aviation era,” said Russo.

Most images are in black and white. But when photographing the Ford Island Field Control Tower, a National Historic Landmark at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, a rainbow came out during the photo shoot, so Russo left the color in.

Russo_ Hawaii

And while Russo made sure to photograph some of the oldest airport control towers, including some now demolished or about to be, she also includes two brand new ones in Sweden that are managed by remote control.

“These are metal structures that have cameras, sound sensors and other equipment that allow the controllers to be 100s of miles away in an office with 360-degrees of LCD screens,” said Russo. “The towers aren’t beautiful, but I include them to tell the story of possibly one of the directions we will be moving with some airport traffic control.”

The exhibition “Art of the Airport Tower” opens Wednesday at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and runs through November 2016. It includes more than 50 of the 100 airport control tower images in Russo’s book of the same name.

Bye-Bye Spruce Goose?

Spruce Goose from outside

If you want to get an up close look at the Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose – or play for a day in a water park built with a Boeing 747 on the roof – now might be a good time to make those plans.

The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum – and Wings and Wave Water Park – may be sold on November 30 in a foreclosure auction in Oregon.

Spruce Goose and others inside the museum

The museum is hoping to delay the sale and has posted this notice on its website:

“We have been notified that our landlord, the Michael King Smith Education Foundation, has received a writ of execution on the sale of both the Space Museum and Wings & Waves Waterpark. The Foundation is a separate entity that owns buildings on the Museum Campus including the Space building, chapel and the Evergreen Wings & Waves Waterpark.

The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is an independent non-profit organization. Museum Management is actively working on solutions to address this situation with the landlord. Visitor count at both the Museum and Waterpark is strong, and the Museum is profitable. We will continue to operate as usual and look forward to welcoming our guests.”

(Photos courtesy of the museum)