The Wall Street Journal has released its ranking of the best and worst U.S. airlines for 2022, naming Delta Air Lines the country’s top carrier. The WSJ’s rankings rely on data reported to the Department of Transportation, but they do not include available data points that are important to disabled travelers.

Philadelphia International Airport

In 2020, I revised the paper’s rankings to consider an additional data point: the rate of wheelchair damage by airlines. That was a helpful advancement, but it did not go far enough. This year, the U.S. airline rankings include expanded criteria (disability complaints), while also weighting the two disability-specific factors more heavily than those that impact all passengers (such as delays and cancellations).

In the ranking of the best and worst airlines of 2022, the following metrics were considered, with those specific to disabled passengers receiving twice the weight:

  • Mishandled Wheelchairs (20%)
  • Disability Complaints (20%)
  • On-time Arrivals (10%)
  • Canceled Flights (10%)
  • Extreme Delays (10%)
  • 2-Hour Tarmac Delays (10%)
  • Mishandled Baggage (10%)
  • Passenger Complaints (10%)

One factor considered by the WSJ has been excluded from the ranking: involuntary bumping. While passengers with disabilities have been denied boarding due to oversold flights, it is an extremely rare occurrence and we do not believe that it adds value to the comparison. The relative importance of each of the 8 metrics included in the ranking formula is no doubt different for each passenger, however we believe that the selected methodology and weight aligns well with the interests of most disabled airline passengers.

The rankings were calculated using data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Air Travel Consumer Reports, which were released in 2022 and cover data from November 2021 through October 2022.

These are the rankings:

Delta Air Lines earned the top honors and the 2022 title of best U.S. airline for wheelchair users, with Southwest and United rounding out the top three.

JetBlue aircraft parked at airport gates, each with a different tail design.

JetBlue ranked as the worst carrier for disabled passengers, due in large part to its troubling pattern of mishandling wheelchairs — it did so more than 5% of the time, while the industry average is just 1.55%. The carrier’s disabled passengers also submit complaints directly to the DOT at an exceedingly high rate, more than 5 times as often as Delta and Southwest customers based on DOT data.

Allegiant, American Airlines and Frontier tied for 5th place, but if only considering the two disability-focused metrics, both ultra low cost carriers (Allegiant and Frontier) perform better than the world’s largest airline (American).

Wheelchair being loaded into cargo hold of American Airlines airplane.
Wheelchair being loaded into cargo hold of American Airlines airplane.

Each of the measurements of airline quality included in the ranking formula are important to disabled travelers, but chief among them is the treatment of personal mobility equipment. When airlines mishandle a passenger’s wheelchair, it can have a profound impact on that person’s ability to travel, live and work.

Proper handling of personal mobility equipment continues to be the greatest opportunity for improvement, even among carriers that are performing above average. Delta’s average rate of damaged and delayed wheelchairs is low at 0.83%, but that still amounted to more than 1,600 mobility devices impacted during the 12-month period covered by this analysis. The disabled passengers who were left to pick up the pieces of their damaged, delayed or destroyed wheelchairs deserve better.

Do these rankings align with your experience as a disabled airline passenger? Which carriers have treated you the best and worst? Let us know in the comments below!

Notes on data and analysis

Wheelchair damage statistics are self-reported to the USDOT by carriers. For this ranking, we considered damage by reporting carriers and their branded codeshare partners (i.e. American Airlines mainline and American Eagle).

Disability complaint data is supplied by the DOT and is based upon the number of passenger complaints submitted directly to the DOT (not the airline) regarding disability assistance-related incidents. This data is reported by operating carrier and so, to determine frequency for the purposes of ranking, we divided the number of reported complaints by the number of wheelchairs transported by the operating carrier. This seemed to be a more valid comparison than total number of passengers enplaned (disabled and nondisabled).

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