These Are the Two Safest Airlines You Can Take Right Now

Customers who actually flew during the pandemic last year shared their thoughts about the experiences on the airlines they chose.

If you’re nervous to fly right now, that’s definitely understandable. The idea of sitting on a crowded airplane for hours, surrounded by people, even if they’re masked, seems pretty unsavory in COVID-19 times. But if you are considering taking a plane trip—or need to—there are plenty of factors to consider to maximize your safety. For one thing, the myth that the air inside airplanes is “recirculated” and unsafe is, in fact, a myth—the air is actually pretty well filtered and safe. For another, safety protocols differ between airlines, and choosing one airline over another can boost your chances of staying safe.

Airfare deals site Scott’s Cheap Flights released their annual “State of Cheap Flights” report for 2021, and they unsurprisingly assessed the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In their assessment, they named the two airlines that they consider to be safest right now: Delta and Southwest. Check out the full results of the survey at Scott’s Cheap Flights.

How were report results determined?

The results of the reports were determined by Scott’s Cheap Flights members. The site emailed the survey to their members and received over 5,800 responses, using those to determine the results. “We asked questions about COVID but also general travel plans for 2020 and 2021,” says Katie Hammel, Scott’s Cheap Flights’ Senior Content Marketing Manager.

How did Delta and Southwest come out on top?

All of the survey respondents were people who actually took flights on those airlines from March to November. They ranked their experience one through five stars on how well they implemented certain COVID safety protocols: enforcing mask policies, capacity limits, blocking middle seats, providing sanitizing wipes, sanitizing between flights, notifying passengers of full flights, and limiting interaction with crew.

A full 92 percent of survey respondents gave both Delta and Southwest four or more stars, putting them at the top of the pack. Delta did six of those seven things: The only thing they fell short on was notifying passengers of full flights. Interestingly, Southwest only did five of the seven, falling short on providing wipes and notifying passengers of full flights—yet Southwest still edged out other airlines that did six. For passengers, the quality of the services Southwest did provide must still have outweighed the experiences on the other airlines. These are the air travel rules you need to know about.

Other strong airlines

JetBlue and Alaska were the other airlines that did six out of seven, like Delta. The only one JetBlue didn’t do was provide wipes, and Alaska Airlines fell short on notifying passengers of full flights. And those airlines both did very well in the survey, with 88 percent of respondents giving Alaska four or more stars and 86 percent ranking JetBlue that high. Yet Southwest still edged them out slightly. For passengers, the quality of the services Southwest did provide must still have outweighed the experiences on the other airlines.

The airlines that came out the worst

Spirit Airlines landed at the bottom of the list, with nearly half of respondents (47 percent) giving it three stars or lower. Spirit only did three of the seven things, a less-than-ideal number also shared by Frontier Airlines. Interestingly, those three things were the same for both airlines: Enforcing mask policies, sanitizing between flights, and limiting interaction with the crew were the only things out of the seven that they both did. (In fact, every single airline in the survey did those three things.) Neither of those, though, is the airline that’s gotten the most complaints during the pandemic.

Middle of the pack

The other airlines in the survey, United, American, and Air Canada, “were more hit-and-miss when it came to passing out sanitizing wipes, not filling the plane, and keeping middle seats open,” said Hammel. Like Southwest, United did five out of seven, but landed below Southwest in terms of overall satisfaction. United did not block middle seats or implement capacity limits. But it was one of only two airlines (JetBlue was the other) to notify passengers of full flights, the category that the most airlines did not fulfill.

The bottom line? No airline’s been perfect during this challenging time, with enforcements differing from airline to airline. And customer satisfaction is subjective! What matters is assessing the things that mean the most to you, choosing an airline accordingly, and, of course, following safety protocols to keep yourself and your fellow passengers healthy. For more safety tips, learn what flight attendants want you to know before you fly again.

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Coronavirus Market Crash - Airline Industryshaunl/Getty Images

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Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a Staff Writer for RD.com who has been writing since before she could write. She graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English and has been writing for Reader's Digest since 2017. In spring 2017, her creative nonfiction piece "Anticipation" was published in Angles literary magazine. She is a proud Hufflepuff and member of Team Cap.