Traveling soon? An airline’s service, reliability, and cost can make or break your trip and your budget. As of 2018, there are 17 major carriers in the U.S. and a wide array of public opinion on how they perform. We’ve combed through research to discover which airlines may be best to book, which to avoid, and which that, while not perfect, might be worth a try.


There’s a lot to consider when evaluating airline performance. Cabin comfort, the airline’s track record of delays, and their affordability/value all affect passenger experience. How well an airline’s points/mileage rewards programs work and the perks that they provide also impact satisfaction. These components made up the criteria for how airlines were ranked for many of the surveys we researched.

Research Sources

There is a huge amount of published material focused on how airlines are doing. All of these publications in total represent feedback from tens of thousands of flights spanning all major carriers.

Each source looked at airline service from their own nuanced perspective. For example, larger publications were interested in the kinds of things that are connected to their readership, typically, the experience of business or leisure travelers. In contrast, a niche publication focused on rewards programs had different criteria. Given these focus areas, it is especially noteworthy when there is a consensus among articles.

Highest ranking

In many of the surveys, Alaska Airlines was called out as being among the best. Not only was the carrier praised for high levels of customer service, reviewers liked its track record for shorter delays and passenger in-flight experience. In addition, the company showed some of the most reasonable flight prices (including baggage pricing and fees) as well as a loyalty rewards program that offers substantial value to regular passengers.

This airline has been earning high marks for years. it had been known as a regional airline providing service to Western and Pacific Northwestern U.S. airports until 2016 when it was purchased by Virgin Atlantic. Passengers wondered if the service and pricing they had come to expect would continue. So far, the merger has only improved what Alaska has to offer, opening up more service destinations than the airline could have had on its own. This includes a new nonstop flight from New York City’s JFK airport to San Jose California that was started in 2018.

While Alaska was regularly found at the top of many rankings, other airlines weren’t far behind. These include Delta and Southwest airlines, carriers that were highly valued for their pricing and their “on time” flight records among other criteria.

Lowest ranking

You’d think it would be easy to pick a single airline to consider the worst of the group. It isn’t. Surveys show that there’s a lot of movement in airlines that were ranked poorly last year but have improved within a twelve-month timeframe. This is the case for Frontier airlines. However, because many surveys placed Frontier at or near the bottom of their list, we included it as the lowest in our ranking.

The carrier wasn’t always regarded so harshly. Just over a decade ago, they earned high marks for price and customer satisfaction. It’s much-lauded PR and advertising campaigns focusing on the animals painted on its tails further bolstered its success.

Things changed for the airline as it experienced business and economic challenges. In addition, its acquisition by Indigo partners refocused the airline towards providing low cost, bargain fares. Over time, tales of flight delays, mishandled baggage, and other horror stories were shared across the internet and affected customer loyalty. Passengers were also not thrilled with baggage fees and unexpected charges for things that were previously included in the typical fare.

Other lower-ranked airlines include a fair selection of low-cost carriers offering budget fares. Spirit Airlines and Jet Blue receive their share of lower scores for customer service including fees, baggage loss, and flight delays. In addition, Jet Blue received lower scores because it doesn’t maintain as large a service route network as some of the other carriers.

Could be a gamble, could save you money

Between the highest and lowest rated airlines is a gray area. These carriers might be worth trying. Despite notable issues, they’re working to improve and could get you where you’re going while going easy on your wallet.

Just about all of the surveys included United in the center of their rankings. Some ranked them just under the midpoint and some just above. One of the major benefits of the airline is its extremely large service route. With a hub located in Denver, a central North American location, they’re able to access a range of cities and offer its fair share of direct flight options. However, the airline is known for poor customer service including a range of major negative media stories in recent years. It also charges unexpected fees in addition to regular airfare ticket that lowers affordability for passengers.

American airlines was another carrier regularly holding its place towards the middle of the rankings. Like United, it has a strong flying heritage and it benefits from a larger service area but has experienced customer service and pricing issues.

Evaluating bargains

When evaluating airlines it is easy to look first at how pricing will affect your trip. Travel can be expensive and budget-friendly.options are always welcomed. However, it can be a mistake to choose a travel experience based on price alone. Some more expensive carriers make up for a larger price tag with better customer service and other perks. Consider the whole experience as your travel plans and you won’t be sorry.