The Best Airlines in America

  • Airlines Are Getting Better (Really)

    Yes, you read that right. Airlines are getting better, despite all you may have read in the news about new airline fees, tarmac delays and lost or damaged luggage. But, according to a recent study, more airlines arrived on time in 2009 and fewer customers filed complaints. Part of the irony seems to be that the airlines performed better when they had fewer passengers to impress. Perhaps they were just overtaxed before, or maybe they’re just more eager to please now. Photo Credit: Getty Images
    Methodology
  • Methodology

    The Airline Quality Rating report has been released every year for nearly two decades. In this year’s study, researchers at Purdue University and Wichita State University partnered to rank 18 domestic airlines by four criteria: how often the flights were on time, the frequency people are kept off flights involuntarily, the number of passengers who had luggage mishandled and the number of consumer complaints overall. This last metric is based on 12 categories of complaints filed with the Bureau of Transportation, some of which overlaps with the criteria already mentioned (baggage and discrimination were two complaints) but it also includes complaints about fares, refunds, advertising and more. On average, airlines in America were on time 79.4% of the time, denied boarding to 1.19 of every 10,000 passengers and mishandled the luggage of 3.88 of every 1,000 passengers. For every 100,000 passengers, 0.97 felt the need to file a complaint with the Bureau of Transportation. Photo Credit: prayitno
    18th Best Airline: American Eagle Airlines
  • 18th Best Airline: American Eagle Airlines

    American Eagle Airlines proved to be the worst of all the airlines in the report. According to the study, there were fewer consumer complaints against American Eagle in 2009 than the previous year, but there was still much to complain about, including the highest rate of mishandled baggage. But perhaps the airline will fare better next year: they have already announced several new flight routes. On-Time Performance: 77.2% Mishandled Baggage: 7.78 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 3.76 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 0.64 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 16 Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org
    17th Best Airline: Atlantic Southeast
  • 17th Best Airline: Atlantic Southeast

    Here’s a fun fact: Atlantic Southeast has the highest ratio of mishandled baggage. So if you like the pain of losing your luggage, take this airline. But I would not want to be in that luggage pickup area after one of their flights. There’s bound to be a few angry people watching that last piece of luggage spin around on the conveyor belt. On-Time Performance: 71.2% Mishandled Baggage: 7.87 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 2.27 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 0.65 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 17 Photo Credit: Flyasa.com
    16th Best Airline: Comair
  • 16th Best Airline: Comair

    Comair passengers know the value of patience better than most: nearly a third of all flights on this airline were delayed. On-Time Performance: 69% Mishandled Baggage: 6.04 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 2.63 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 1.03 per 100,000 Previous Year’s Ranking: 15 Photo Credit: lifesabmovie
    15th Best Airline: Delta
  • 15th Best Airline: Delta

    Delta (Stock Quote: DAL) managed to improve their rate of mishandled baggage and bumped customers from the previous year, but apparently people still found more to complain about in 2009 than in 2008. On-Time Performance: 78.6% Mishandled Baggage: 4.89 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 1.12 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 1.96 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 12 Photo Credit: Andrew Dimofte
    14th Best Airline: SkyWest
  • 14th Best Airline: SkyWest

    SkyWest has a better-than-average on-time performance and a relatively low number of customer complaints, but the airline is far from perfect. They still have a high occurrence of mishandled baggage. And then there are stories like this one from an LA Times reporter about how SkyWest nearly made him and his mother-in-law miss their flight by directing them to a non-existent gate in the terminal. On-Time Performance: 82.1% Mishandled Baggage: 5.69 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 1.03 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 0.49 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 13 Photo Credit: Skywest.com
    13th Best Airline: United
  • 13th Best Airline: United

    Coming in at lucky number 13 is United Airlines. Truth be told, they should probably just be happy not to be closer to last place. Interestingly, the number of customer complaints declined in 2009, but few companies seem to inspire as much consumer outrage as United. They’ve been the subject of fuming viral videos and criticized for lousy customer service. And as this recent news story shows, United employees could still use some customer service lessons. It’s important for an airline to show some class, even when they aren’t dealing with customers in first class. On-Time Performance: 80.9% Mishandled Baggage: 4.10 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 1.30 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 1.34 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 11 Photo Credit: rejon
    12th Best Airline: Mesa
  • 12th Best Airline: Mesa

    Mesa earned average quality ratings on this report, but overall the airline has still had a turbulent year. The company filed for bankruptcy at the beginning of this year. On-Time Performance: 79.1% Mishandled Baggage: 4.52 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 1.47 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 0.61 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 14 Photo Credit: PhillipC
    11th Best Airline: Alaska
  • 11th Best Airline: Alaska

    According to the report, while many airlines in America started to actually get their act together this year, Alaska Airlines was the one carrier to get considerably worse in 2009, dropping an astonishing six spots on the list. There were more customer complaints and more involuntary denied boardings. On the bright side, more of their flights arrived on time this year. On-Time Performance: 82.9% Mishandled Baggage: 3.98 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 2.03 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 0.50 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 5 Photo Credit: Alaskan Dude
    10th Best Airline: ExpressJet
  • 10th Best Airline: ExpressJet

    ExpressJet was not ranked last year, and they have debuted on the list this year with a perfectly average rating. On-Time Performance: 78.7% Mishandled Baggage: 3.91 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 1.93 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 0.33 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org
    9th Best Airline: American
  • 9th Best Airline: American

    American Airlines maintained the same rank on the list as last year, but they did see a nice increase in their on-time performance. Last year, just more than two-thirds of flights arrived and departed on time, this year, more than three-fourths did. On-Time Performance: 77.2% Mishandled Baggage: 4.32 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 0.56 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 1.07 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 9 Photo Credit: Karen Horton
    8th Best Airline: US Airways
  • 8th Best Airline: US Airways

    US Airways (Stock Quote: LCC) jumped up two positions this year by improving on three of the four criteria, with the exception of denied boarding rates. The question is: Will the rumored merger between US Airways and United help or hurt the quality of service they each provide? On-Time Performance: 80.9% Mishandled Baggage: 3.03 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 1.41 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 1.31 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 10 Photo Credit: USAirways.com
    7th Best Airline: Frontier
  • 7th Best Airline: Frontier

    Frontier Airlines saw the number of consumer complaints rise in 2009, but it still fell short of the industry average. The airline was also helped by one of the lowest mishandled baggage rates on the list. On-Time Performance: 78.3% Mishandled Baggage: 2.50 per 1,000 Denied Boarding: 1.88 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 0.92 complaints per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 7 Photo Credit: Frontier.com
    6th Best Airline: Continental
  • 6th Best Airline: Continental

    Continental Airlines’ ranking improved last year thanks to better on-time performance and fewer consumer complaints. Continental is also one of two airlines to make moves to prevent long tarmac waits by mandating that planes return to the gates after an allotted time. On-Time Performance: 78.8% Mishandled Baggage: 2.73 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 1.57 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 1.00 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 8 Photo Credit: Continental.com
    5th Best Airline: Southwest
  • 5th Best Airline: Southwest

    Southwest (Stock Quote: LUV) may have made it into the top five, but there’s no doubt the airline sits a lot lower on Kevin Smith’s list. The popular filmmaker was deemed too fat to fly and kicked off his Southwest airlines flight. In general though, Southwest has some of the best customer service in the business. Southwest had the fewest customer complaints of any airline on the list. On-Time Performance: 83.0% Mishandled Baggage: 3.43 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 1.29 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 0.21 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 6 Photo Credit: Southwest.com
    4th Best Airline: Northwest
  • 4th Best Airline: Northwest

    Unlike its sister airline, Northwest has an incredibly low rate of involuntary denied boarding, although it’s a lot compared to the next airline on the list. Perhaps Smith should have flown one of these carriers instead. On-Time Performance: 79.2% Mishandled Baggage: 2.68 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 0.60 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 1.21 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 4 Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org
    3rd Best Airline: JetBlue
  • 3rd Best Airline: JetBlue

    JetBlue (Stock Quote: JBLU) had the fourth fewest mishandled baggage incidents and did not deny a single person from boarding their airlines. Plus, they are one of the more affordable airlines in America. On-Time Performance: 77.5% Mishandled Baggage: 2.56 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 0.00 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 0.85 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 3 Photo Credit: Jetblue.com
    2nd Best Airline: Air Tran
  • 2nd Best Airline: Air Tran

    Air Tran (Stock Quote: AAI) was ranked #1 in airline quality back in 2007, but since then it has been overtaken by another carrier. Still, Air Tran has much to be proud of, including better than average rates of denied boarding and mishandled baggage. And whenever you see steep discounts on airfare, it’s usually because Air Tran or JetBlue launch a sale and force other airlines to match the gesture. For that alone, Air Tran should rank high on the list for consumers. On-Time Performance: 76.7% Mishandled Baggage: 1.67 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 0.24 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 0.97 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 2 Photo Credit: Airtran.com
    The Best Airline in America: Hawaiian
  • The Best Airline in America: Hawaiian

    For the second year in a row, Hawaiian Airlines grabbed the #1 spot on the list. The airline has the best on-time performance and the second fewest incidents of customers being denied entry onto the plane. If you’ve been toying with the idea of visiting Hawaii, take this as a sign that you should make the trip out there. It may be a long flight, but at least you know it’s a reliable one. On-Time Performance: 92.1% Mishandled Baggage: 1.90 per 1,000 passengers Denied Boarding: 0.03 per 10,000 passengers Customer Complaints: 0.74 per 100,000 passengers Previous Year’s Ranking: 1 Photo Credit: HawaiianAir.com
    Airline Outrage
  • Airline Outrage

    Of course, even the best airlines have their fair share of problems. Check out our roundup of the worst airline horror stories and feel free to share your own in the comments section! Photo Credit: Getty Images
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