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This Airline Was Just Named the Best for the 4th Consecutive Year After a decline in satisfaction last year, industry performance is on the upswing.

By Carly Okyle

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Frazer Harrison / Getty

It's been a big week for Virgin America.

The airline on Monday nabbed the top spot of the 26th annual Airline Quality Rating (AQR) for the fourth consecutive year, though it did see its lead shrink. The same day, the airline was acquired by Alaska Air for more than $2 billion.

The rankings, compiled and funded by faculty at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's campus in Prescott, Ariz., are based on elements in four areas of airline performance that are important to customers: being on time, involuntary denied boardings, handling baggage and customer complaints. JetBlue took second place -- up from number four last year -- while Delta, Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines rounded out the top five.

Related: Here Are FlyerTalk's 3 Best Loyalty Programs in America

Though Virgin America's position remains unchanged, there was some movement among other companies on the list. Delta, JetBlue and Southwest are three of the six airlines that improved their AQR scores, though ExpressJet and SkyWest had the biggest improvements. Frontier's score declined the most.

While performance has improved overall after a downturn last year, researchers acknowledge that there were more customer complaints this year.

Brent Bowen, a co-researcher of the study and the dean of the College of Aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, addressed the increase in complaints bluntly. "These results clearly show that the air traveling public is not happy," he said in a statement. "The human element of air travel is obviously deteriorating, and passengers are fed up. While these airlines are making record profits, the findings clearly indicate investments need to happen now to improve the customer experience in all of the complaint categories."

Related: This Airport Was Just Named the World's Best for the 4th Year in a Row

A full list of the rankings and a breakdown of which companies did best in each category is available here.

Carly Okyle

Assistant Editor, Contributed Content

Carly Okyle is an assistant editor for contributed content at Entrepreneur.com.

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