"Airlines are doing a poor job of conveying quality performance and improvements in areas such as on-time arrival rates to passengers," said Erin Bowen, a professor of technology leadership and innovation at Purdue University.
"Airlines like Southwest who push a service-oriented message continue to score highest in passenger friendliness for consumers," she said.
Southwest, the report says, is far and away the highest ranked passenger-friendly airline chosen three times as often as the airline ranked second, which was JetBlue, a university press release said.
This occurs in spite of what Bowen said was "a mediocre statistical performance rating," in the most recent Airline Quality Rating survey.
The AQR survey shows U.S. airlines have improved in on-time arrival, number of complaints, denied boardings and baggage handling mistakes.
But passengers are not convinced, especially frequent fliers, who tend not to equate fees for pillows, blankets and pretzels with rising fuel costs.
"A la carte fees are the last thing they want. Almost one-third said they'd rather drive a car than be nickel and dimed to death," Bowen said, who is the head of the Department of Aviation Technology.