The Biggest US Airlines, Ranked From First to Worst
Each day, tens of thousands of commercial flights crisscross America’s skies, and passengers on board those planes can have vastly different flying experiences.
The seats can be relatively roomy and comfortable — or cramped and feel like you’re sitting on upholstered cement. You might pay one fairly inclusive price, or find your low fare comes with a slew of surprising add-on fees.
Consumer Reports recently asked readers to rate the 11 largest domestic airlines, on everything from pricing and delays to seating and service.
Out of a possible 100, here are the scores — from best to worst. Want to guess which U.S. airline landed on the bottom?
1. Southwest Airlines
Southwest’s score amounts to a grade of A. The teacher’s pet of airlines is said to have the shortest delay times, which is obviously a big deal for harried air travelers.
Plus, Southwest is the only one of the 11 carriers on this list to earn top marks for pricing transparency, including its lack of a fee for making ticket changes.
The airline also rates as one that consistently provides exceptional customer service — and if all this weren’t enought, Southwest allows you to check two bags for free. Swoon.
2. Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines is another star performer with high ratings in nearly all categories in the survey. From easy check-ins to excellent customer service, this airline pleased passengers across all ticket classes.
Alaska also was rated highly for its honest and transparent pricing during booking — and in the age of nickel-and-dime airline fees, this is a major selling point.
For high-end comfort, Alaska Airlines shared the top-spot with Hawaiian Airlines, based on responses from travelers who took more than 8,700 flights in premium seating.
3. (tie) JetBlue
Budget-friendly JetBlue excels in the categories of staff service, check-in ease, and cabin cleanliness. In stressful airport situations, the airline’s strong customer service comes out ahead of the competition.
The carrier doesn’t perform quite as strongly for Wi-Fi connectivity or in-flight options, but I guess you get what you pay for.
In this survey, the most commonly reported complaint was about delayed flights, with roughly 12% of all JetBlue flights getting in late, according to passengers.
3. (tie) Virgin America
Low-cost Virgin America (now part of Alaska Airlines) also gets favorable ratings for cabin cleanliness, check-in ease, and staff service.
Although 4 in 10 people taking the survey say they choose airlines based mainly on price, one major complaint is the lack of comfort in economy class seats. It’s no secret that budget airlines are installing smaller economy seats with less padding.
But given Virgin America’s high rating, it’s a good choice if you’re looking for affordable travel that’s not painful. Saving up for a trip? Find out how much you need to put away each month to reach your goal.
5. Hawaiian Airlines
When you’re booking a vacation in Hawaii, you know it’s not going to be cheap, and tickets on Hawaiian Airlines aren’t the bottom of the barrel. But on this highly-rated carrier, your vacation starts in the air.
This airline is one of the few to excel in the legroom category, which is key to making the long haul to the islands comfortable.
Hawaiian also is among the highest-rated carriers for both business class and first class. And, the airline excels in overall satisfaction, according to Consumer Reports.
6. Delta Air Lines
Although Delta’s overall score amounts to a B+, this airline did receive some significant complaints about comfort.
Delta also gets below-average marks for food and beverage choices in economy class, though that’s the case for nearly all the domestic airlines.
Delta was able to save face with a stellar rating for its business class, but it got dinged for inconsistent Wi-Fi connectivity and unimpressive in-flight entertainment. The final verdict? Delta is a decent choice for a short flight.
7. Allegiant Air
Economy airline Allegiant earns an overall B grade — probably because customers are learning not to expect too much in the way of comfort and service on cheap domestic flights.
Allegiant earns a low score for price transparency, since it’s one of the budget carriers that hit you with fees for every little thing. For example, you’ll pay up to $75 for a carry-on bag.
The biggest problem for Allegiant is its reputation for canceling flights. If you’re flexible or are on an early morning flight, you might be OK — but a cancellation could cause a serious problem if you’ve booked a nighttime flight to a resort.
8. American Airlines
American Airlines achieves its unenviable C+ grade thanks to its below-average marks for Wi-Fi and in-flight entertainment. The mediocrity continues with average scores for seat comfort in economy class.
But America’s largest airline does score well for pricing transparency.
Plus, American Airlines is said to be OK for premium seating, and it’s rated “good” for its check-ins and customer service.
9. United Airlines
Nearing the bottom of the list, United Airlines fails in the comfort category because of its economy seating that travelers say is super-uncomfortable.
Add this to below-average scores for in-flight entertainment, and you’ve got a solid C+ flight experience.
Still, the survey results aren’t all terrible for United. The airline performs respectably in the premium seating category.
10. Frontier Airlines
Frontier’s slogan is “Low fares done right,” but travelers beg to disagree. The airline receives low marks in all categories, with passengers decrying the extra fees for everything from checked bags to carry-ons to drinks and snacks.
Consumer Reports says flyers also note persistent flight delays lasting anywhere from one to four hours — or more.
According to one customer review on AirlineQuality.com, “If you need to be somewhere on time, don’t use Frontier.” Ouch!
11. Spirit Airlines
Oft-maligned Spirit Airlines has a long-standing reputation for hefty surcharges and spartan amenities. But the airline keeps packing ’em in (literally!) because its base fares can be up to 50% lower than competing flights.
The only things included in your ticket are your seat and one small bag that fits under the seat in front of you. Everything else is an add-on.
Still, fans say Spirit can be a decent experience if you plan ahead.
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