Otherwise known for the excellence of its service, Virgin America ranks a distant last in a study released today which reveals how quickly the...

Otherwise known for the excellence of its service, Virgin America ranks a distant last in a study released today which reveals how quickly the call centers of the 13 largest U.S. airlines have been responding to customer calls during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year.

Virgin America operates an all-Airbus fleet of A319s and A320s and by the middle of the decade could have 76 or more aircraft in service, given the size of its current fleet and existing orders

Key findings of the STELLAService study include:

Virgin America (#13) ranked a distant last with an average call wait time of 24 minutes and 19 seconds. In fact, 73 per cent of calls placed to Virgin America had call wait times over 30 minutes. A potentially mitigating factor is that Virgin America is notifying travelers that they should expect longer-than-usual wait times to reach a live agent as the company transitions to a new reservation system;

● Hawaiian Airlines (#1) had the shortest call wait time at 1 minute and 33 seconds, followed by Alaska Airlines (#2) at 1 minute and 36 seconds;

American Airlines (#3) ranked as the most responsive of the five largest U.S. carriers (Delta, American, United, Southwest and Continental) with an average call wait time of 2 minutes and 1 second;

● United Airlines (#10) and Continental Airlines (#12), which still operate separate call centers, both averaged over 5 minutes, placing them last among the five largest U.S. carriers; and

● Eight of the 13 call centers surveyed kept customers on hold for less than 3 minutes.

Hawaiian Airlines' primary long-haul aircraft has been the Boeing 767-300ER throughout the first decade of the new millennium, but the aging type is being supplanted in Hawaiian Airlines service by up to 27 larger, more fuel-efficient Airbus A330-200s and A350 XWBs

Average call hold times (minutes:seconds) were:

1. Hawaiian Airlines 01:33
2. Alaska Airlines 01:36
3. American Airlines 02:01
4. Southwest Airlines 02:08
5. Delta Air Lines 02:35
6. AirTran Airways 02:39
7. Frontier Airlines 02:47
8. Spirit Airlines 02:55
9. JetBlue Airways 04:14
10. United (United Airlines contact center) 05:49
11. US Airways 05:50
12. United (Continental Airlines contact center) 06:08
13. Virgin America 24:19

A Boeing 737-800 of Alaska Airlines flies over the mountains of Washington State

The survey included America’s top 13 airlines for traffic in 2010, as determined  by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Through 390 calls to the airlines over a five-day period, STELLAService engaged each airline five times per day from November 16 through November 21, asking general customer service questions on each call (flight status, bag fees, website questions, etc).

Calls were placed at random during five consecutive time-blocks to generate measurements of service performance that have high reliability and construct validity: 8:00-11:30 a.m. EST; 11:30-2:00 p.m. EST; 2:00-5:00 p.m. EST; 5:00-8:00 p.m. EST; 8:00-11:00 p.m. EST.

STELLAService is an independent company rating customer-service quality throughout the United States. It uses a nationwide network of full-time mystery shoppers to evaluate businesses rigorously, using more than 350 metrics. Its data is regularly featured and sourced by a wide range of media outlets.

For more information on STELLAService, visit www.stellaservice.com.