California-based Virgin America ranked highest among the nation's top 15 carriers in a study that looked at on-time performance, customer complaints and lost bag rates, among other factors.
The study, known as the Airline Quality Rating report, also found that airline performance improved in 2013 over the previous year.
The ratings report was produced by researchers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Wichita State University and was based on data collected by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
For the industry, the percentage of on-time arrivals dropped from 81.8% in 2012 to 78.4% in 2013. The rate of mishandled baggage was also worse, increasing from 3.07 per 1,000 passengers in 2012 to 3.21 per 1,000 passengers in 2013.
But the rate of passengers who were involuntarily denied a seat and the rate of complaints against airlines declined slightly in 2013, the report found.
"With a mixed bag of gains and losses across the 15 carriers rated, the improvement in AQR score for the industry is a positive sign," the report said.
Airline critics take a less rosy view, saying 2013 was a year marked by higher fares, more passenger fees and cramped economy seats.
"It was a good year for airlines," said Paul Hudson, president of flyersrights.org, a nonprofit passenger rights group. "Their stock basically doubled."
Virgin America earned the highest airline score based on a combination of its ratings in various categories. For example, the airline had the lowest rate of mishandled bags in the industry and the second-lowest rate of bumping passengers from paid seats.
"As a young airline, our goal from day one has been to reinvent flying for the better," said Virgin America operations chief Steve Forte.
The ratings were released about a month after Virgin America announced that 2013 was its first profitable year since it launched in 2007. The airline, founded with the support of Richard Branson, is expected to go public this year.
In the ratings report, JetBlue Airways ranked second to Virgin America, followed by Hawaiian Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines.