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Southwest Airlines descended to No. 2 in the annual Airline Quality Rating, and Delta Air Lines flew steady at No. 4 among the nation's nine major air carriers.

That's according to the annual study released on Monday about 19 factors - from on-time performance to fares and lost baggage - by the National Institute for Aviation Research, Wichita State University and the University of Nebraska.Scores for Southwest and Delta - which have more flights into Salt Lake International Airport than major competitors - dropped overall during 1994, as did scores for the entire industry.

"The Airline Quality Rating shows that overall quality of airline performance is declining while the industry is getting (financially) stronger. Consumers might interpret this as getting less for their money," said study co-author Dean E. Headley.

Southwest - which in 1993 had become the top-ranked airline - slipped back to No. 2 in 1994 behind American Airlines.

The study said American's performance remained essentially unchanged, but Southwest's scores declined slowly over the year. It ended slightly behind American on a complicated scale - but still far ahead of third-place United Airlines.

Delta had the second largest drop in its overall score (USAir had a bigger one) but remained in the No. 4 position. The study said Delta's scores steadily declined since May 1994.

USAir finished fifth, Northwest Airlines sixth, America West seventh, Trans World Airlines eighth and Continental Airlines ninth.

Southwest was still the best on-time performer among major airlines: arriving and leaving as scheduled 90 percent of the time. Delta was last in that category, with an on-time performance of only 77 percent.

Northwest was second with 86 percent of flights on time, and America West was third with 86 percent. The average nationally was 82 percent.

Southwest also lost the least luggage among major airlines, mishandling 38.1 pieces of luggage per 100,000 passengers. America West was second with 44.1, TWA was third with 50.5, American was fourth with 56.9 and Delta was fifth with 57.3.

The study said that on average, about one of every 200 bags that are checked are reported lost. Most bags are lost when flying between December and February, and fewest are lost when flying between May and September.

The study also said between one and two passengers per 10,000 boardings are bumped from flights involuntarily because of over-book-ing.

It said the airlines most likely to bump people are Southwest, America West and Continental. The airlines least likely to bump people are American and United.

The study said major airlines - those whose operating revenues are at least $1 billion per year - had 20 accidents in 1994 leading to 239 deaths.

However, it said it was still 2.5 times more likely that someone would be struck by lightning than they would die in an airplane crash. About one of every 650,000 Americans are struck by lightning each year, causing an average of 93 deaths.