2016’s Best Airlines
Americans spend roughly $400 on airfare and related expenses per trip, and, unfortunately, we can lose a lot more than just our luggage or a few dollars in fare if we choose the wrong carrier. For example, what if it was your healthy Golden Retriever who died in Delta Airlines custody this January?
We all know how to compare airlines based on price, but it can be much more difficult to weigh your options when it comes to other aspects of the air travel experience. This report therefore focuses on quantifying those aspects in order to help consumers make more-informed decisions.
WalletHub used government data to analyze the 10 largest U.S. airlines as well as three regional carriers across 13 key metrics, such as cancellations and delays, complaints and in-flight comfort. Although this report concentrates on non-price aspects of the flying experience, costs were considered to a small extent so as to be fair in grading the in-flight experience. After all, it wouldn’t be right to penalize an airline that charges for drinks, for example, when its tickets are far cheaper than an airline offering free in-flight refreshments. You can find the full results below.
Best & Worst Overall … Virgin America (soon to be part of Alaska Airlines) and JetBlue top the list of 2016’s best airlines, while United, American and ExpressJet are the worst
Most & Least Reliable … Delta is the best airline for avoiding cancelations, delays, mishandled luggage and denied boardings, while ExpressJet and Envoy Air are the worst
Most & Least Comfortable … JetBlue offers the most comfortable in-flight experience, while Spirit and Frontier are the least comfortable
Most & Least Economical … Spirit and ExpressJet are the best airlines for budget flyers, while American, Delta and Southwest are the worst
Most & Least Pet-Friendly … Six airlines tie for the top spot with no animal incidents, while Alaska and United are the worst airlines to fly with a pet
Most & Least Satisfactory … Alaska Airlines had the lowest consumer-complaint rate in the industry in 2015, while Spirit had the highest complaint rates
The tables below illustrate the number of points that each airline received based on the scoring system defined in the methodology.
National Airline Scores
|Metric||Max Score||American Airlines||Delta Air Lines||Southwest Airlines||United Airlines||JetBlue Airways||Alaska Airlines||Spirit Airlines||Frontier Airlines||Hawaiian Airlines||Virgin America|
|Mishandled Baggage Reports||10||2.27||6.48||3.76||3.97||7.10||3.63||5.39||4.27||5.22||9.25|
|Animal Losses Reported||3||0.00||0.00||3.00||3.00||3.00||3.00||3.00||3.00||3.00||3.00|
|Animal Injuries Reported||6||0.00||0.00||6.00||0.00||6.00||0.00||6.00||6.00||6.00||6.00|
|Animal Deaths Reported||6||0.00||0.00||6.00||0.00||6.00||0.00||6.00||6.00||0.00||6.00|
Regional Airline Scores**
|Metric||Max Score||SkyWest Airlines||ExpressJet Airlines||Envoy Air|
|Mainly Serves||N/A||American, Delta, Alaska and United||American, Delta and United||American|
|Mishandled Baggage Reports||10||2.11||0.00||0.00|
|Animal Losses Reported||3||3.00||3.00||3.00|
|Animal Injuries Reported||6||6.00||0.00||6.00|
|Animal Deaths Reported||6||0.00||0.00||6.00|
** Regional airlines that serve other major airlines.
As a note, these regional carriers are not the only ones serving the national airlines, but the only ones that are required to report to the DoT.
In this report, we sought to supplement easily accessible price-comparison tools by identifying the best and worst airlines in terms of overall service quality and functional performance. To this end, we evaluated the 10 largest national airlines as well as three regional carriers (that report to the Department of Transportation because they have at least 1 percent of total domestic scheduled-service passenger revenues) in terms of 13 key metrics across three major categories: 1) Baggage, departures and complaints, 2) Animal incidents and 3) In-flight comfort and cost.
After collecting and analyzing 2015 flight data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, we sought to confirm our findings with each airline. Eleven of the airlines did so, and we incorporated any corrections they shared, where applicable. The other two – namely, JetBlue and SkyWest – either did not meet our deadline for input or did not provide any feedback.
You can find the detailed scoring framework used to evaluate each airline below. Each metric within this framework was assigned a given weight based on our subjective view of its importance and we also determined the best and worst value within each metric. Points were generally allocated based on common sense, with the best value for each metric being awarded full points, the worst value receiving zero points and values in between receiving a proportional score relative to those endpoints. Certain metrics – such an animal deaths reported – were binary, with either full points or no points being allocated, given our belief that no middle ground exists.
Baggage, Departures & Complaints (Total Score: 65 points)
- a. Cancelled Flights (Max Score: 10 points, Best = 0.00%, Worst = 1.00%)
- b. Delays (Max Score: 20 points, Best = 1.00%, Worst = 15.00%)
- c. Mishandled Baggage Reports (Max Score: 10 points, Best = 0.50, Worst = 5.00)
- d. Denied Boardings (Max Score: 10 points, Best = 0.00, Worst = 10.00)
- e. Complaints (Max Score: 15 points, Best = 1.00, Worst = 20.00)
We collected the number of reported flight cancellations by each airline, then excluded any weather, security, and National Aviation System related cancellations, as they are not carrier-specific. We then divided the resulting figure by the corresponding number of regularly scheduled flights (excluding uncontrollable causes) to obtain the overall percentage of cancelled flights.
We identified the number of each airline’s flights that were delayed by more than 15 minutes, excluded weather, security and National Aviation System related delays, and divided the resulting figure by the total number of regularly scheduled flights (excluding uncontrollable causes) to obtain each airline’s delayed-flight percentage.
We used the total number of mishandled (i.e. lost, damaged, delayed or pilfered) baggage reports received by each airline to determine the rate of mishandled baggage per 1,000 enplaned passengers.
We determined how many passengers with confirmed reservations were involuntarily denied boarding oversold flights on each airline. We then used this number to arrive at the rate of involuntary denied boardings per 10,000 passengers for each airline.
We collected the total number of complaints filed against each airline. We then used this number to arrive at rate of complaints per 100,000 passengers.
Animal Related Incidents (Total Score: 15 points)
- a. Animal Losses Reported (Max Score: 3 points)
- If the airline did not report any incident regarding animal losses = Full Points
- If the airline reported at least one incident regarding animal losses = No points
- b. Animal Injuries Reported (Max Score: 6 points)
- If the airline did not report any incident regarding animal injuries = Full Points
- If the airline reported at least one incident regarding animal injuries = No points
- c. Animal Deaths Reported (Max Score: 6 points)
- If the airline did not report any incident regarding animal deaths = Full Points
- If the airline reported at least one incident regarding animal deaths = No points
In-Flight Comfort And Cost (Total Score: 20 points)
- a. Leg Room (Max Score: 4 points)
- If all an airline’s flights provide at least 30 inches of leg room = Full points
- If all of an airline’s flights do not provide at least 30 inches of leg room = No points
- b. Entertainment Options (Max Score: 2 points)
- If the airline provides some form of entertainment option (e.g. movies, live TV or radio) on most of its flights= Full points
- If the airline does not provide entertainment options on any or most of the airlines in its fleet = No points
- c. Wi-Fi Availability (Max Score: 2 points)
- If the airline provides free Wi-Fi on most of its flights= Full points
- If the airline provides Wi-Fi for a cost on most of its flights = 1 point
- If the airline does not provide Wi-Fi on most of its flights = No points
- d. Complimentary Refreshments (Max Score: 2 points)
- If the airline provides both free food and drinks on all domestic flights over 2 hours = Full points
- If the airline provides either free food or free drinks on all domestic flights over 2 hours = 1 point
- If the airline does not provide free food or drinks on all domestic flights over 2 hours = No points
- e. Price (Max Score: 10 points, Best = 6 cents, Worst = 18 cents)
We collected the values for “Passenger Revenue per ASM,” defined as passenger revenue divided by available seat miles, for each airline.
The regional airlines considered in this report – namely, SkyWest, ExpressJet – serve more than one major airline such as American, Delta, United and Alaska and may or may not offer certain services mentioned under in-flight comfort,” depending on the major airline served. In such cases, we used the average of the maximum and minimum potential scores for each situation to calculate the final score received. Data is accurate as of March 29 2016.
Was this article helpful?