These Are the Best—and Worst—Airlines in America
Whether you're wedged into a tiny seat or have a 30-minute delay that turns into two hours, flying can be super frustrating. Now thanks to a study on the ten largest domestic airlines, we know which rank highest in terms of price (airfare and baggage fees), convenience (on-time, routes, cabin comfort), headaches (customer satisfaction, lost luggage, and being denied boarding), and extras (frequent flier program and lounges). Next time you book a flight, save yourself hours of misery and consider flying on one of the higher-rated carriers.
1. Alaska Air
Alaska Airlines scored the coveted number one spot. According to The Points Guy, this should come as no big surprise because Alaska Airlines is known to be an all-around excellent airline, which is why it placed in the top three for half the criteria, including airfare prices, on-time arrivals, lost baggage, customer satisfaction, and its frequent flier program. Alaska Airlines is currently in the process of merging with Virgin America, so the study authors combined their scores instead of giving Virgin its own ranking. Fortunately for Alaska Airlines, though, this hasn’t impacted its reputation or scores yet. “If you’re traveling in the West, Alaska is clearly the airline to fly,” says Julian Mark Kheel, Analyst at The Points Guy. “Not only was it number one overall in our study, but it also performed very well across the board.” Here are the airport mistakes we’re all still making.
It may come as a bit of shock to see United Airlines ranked so high, considering it didn’t score number one on any of the survey’s individual criteria. United, did however, consistently score in the top in all four categories: price, convenience, headaches, and extras. In fact, United rated second with cabin comfort and has numerous airport lounges (there’s a lounge in most major cities, sometimes even two or three). “United didn’t win outright in any of our 10 criteria, but the airline performed solidly in a number of areas and didn’t finish in the bottom three in any of them,” says Kheel. “So it was United’s consistency that vaulted them into second place.”
3. Virgin America
According to The Point Guy, “Virgin topped the list for cabin comfort, and it loses the fewest bags per passenger of any airline on this list. However, a limited route network (second worst) and pricey bag/change fees (third highest) kept Virgin from a higher ranking.” Virgin America is a great choice when it comes to large seats and added legroom. Kheel recommends flying Virgin America for longer flights, say from Los Angeles to New York, due to its first place spot when it comes to seats and amenities. Just make sure your travel plans are set in stone because you’ll pay a pretty penny in change fees, like upwards of $100. About to book your ticket and unsure of which seat to pick? These are the best seats on a plane for every need.
JetBlue received high marks for its low baggage and change fees. The airline charges just $25 for your first checked bag and $35 for your second, fees that are lower compared to some of the other airlines. JetBlue also has a solid frequent flier and loyalty program that has won many accolades and been highly recognized by companies like Forbes and U.S. News and World Report. On the downside, the airline has less-than-stellar scores when it comes to on-time arrivals and involuntary bumps, like being denied boarding. This is what happened when one airline refused to let a woman fly because of her weight.
5. American Airlines
American has the largest route network of all 10 airlines, which means they offer the greatest number of domestic flights. American didn’t score so well, however, on other criteria such as customer satisfaction, lost baggage, and involuntary bumps, which is why it nabbed its middle spot. But if your not following strict travel plans and you have a more flexible agenda, American may be the way to go, since it services the greatest number of cities and has one of the largest plane fleets. You’re likely to find the most flights leaving at all hours of the day on American. And sometimes flying by the seat of your pants is a good thing. Here’s why making plans might actually be ruining your weekend, according to science.
If you’ve never flown Southwest, you should know that there are no assigned seats and that your first two checked bags are free. The airline also has minimal and sometimes even no change fees. That being said, Southwest is ranked in the bottom half because of its less than desirable cabin comfort, (there are no premium seats available), and it often has higher fares than one would think. “While Southwest had the second highest airfares, it also had the lowest fees on a per passenger basis,” says Kheel. “In the end every airline has to make its money somewhere, so in most cases it’s just a matter of whether they’re charging more for airfare or more in fees.” So in Southwest’s case, the airlines prefers to charge more in airfares. These are the things airlines won’t tell you—but you’ll definitely want to know.
Delta can thank its extremely high prices for its seventh place spot, because it’s hands down the most expensive carrier, according to the survey, which weighed price at 35 percent of the overall score. While Delta finished top third in criteria such as overall passenger satisfaction, number of lounges, on-time arrivals, and route network size, it’s just too expensive. “lt has a reputation for running a solid airline operation, and that was borne out in our study, as Delta performed strongly in a number of our service criteria,” says Kheel. “Unfortunately, Delta’s downfall was in our airfare criteria, where it ended up in last place with the highest ticket prices.” And let’s be real, no one wants to pay the highest price for their airfare, which is why you should know that Tuesday is no longer the best day to buy your ticket.
8. Hawaiian Airlines
If you’re looking for an airline that’s always on time, consider giving Hawaiian Airlines a try. It was the most consistently on-time airline in the study. Granted, they do have the smallest route network though, so you don’t have very many options when it comes to destinations. Hawaiian Airlines also scored relatively low in the number of lounges available to passengers, which are only in Hawaii, and they have higher fares (third highest). Just spent a week roaming the gorgeous beaches of Hawaii and now back in your cubicle dreaming of better sunshine-filled days? Here are 9 easy ways to beat those post-vacation blues.
9. Frontier Airlines
“Frontier (second worst overall) is similar to Spirit,” according to The Points Guy. “It ranks in the bottom half of every classification except airfare, where it’s second best.” While flights are extremely cheap, everything else is pretty much average at best. For example, you have to pay anywhere from $30 to $60 for your carry on, and $25 to $60 for your first checked bag depending on when you check it. If you found a great deal on Frontier and can’t resist, you should definitely pay for your carry on and checked bags online, as you’ll get their lowest price. Never wait until you’re at the gate, as you’ll most likely have to fork over the $60 fee. So you just have to decide what’s more important: comfort and arriving on time or a lower price point.
Look no further than Spirit if you’re trying to score the lowest possible airfare. Like Frontier, Spirit is a discount airline that offers incredibly cheap flights. And we’re talking dirt cheap, like $250 for a round trip flight from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., which is why it came in at the very top in terms of price points. Unfortunately, the airline came in dead last on all other criteria. “Spirit took the bottom spot on the list thanks to last-place rankings for cabin comfort, customer satisfaction, frequent flier perks, and on-time arrivals, plus zero lounges,” says The Points Guy. Having to worry about whether you’ll arrive on time and make your next flight is incredibly stressful. Follow these 12 golden rules for stress-free air travel (and consider booking a flight on one of the higher-rated airlines.)