Calling them “the friendly skies” doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking to fly them. Even if you’re flying with one of the best airlines in the world, air travel can be quite stressful, and for good reason. No matter how many flight survival tips you stick to, with flight delays, cramped space, crowded bookings, and the mystery that is airplane food, flying has the potential to be a horrible experience. But it doesn’t have to be.
Airlines work hard toward making the in-flight experience bearable, if not enjoyable, for their passengers. And with more and more Americans looking to take a great Caribbean vacation or go on a wonderful weekend getaway, the competition is revving up amongst the nation’s airlines. We’ve put together a ranking of the United States’ 10 largest airlines, plus two regional carriers, using data from WalletHub. The WalletHub rankings were determined after consideration of 13 categories, including flight cancellations and delays, customer complaints, issues with boarding and baggage, in-flight comfort, and animal-related incidents. The results paint a picture of just who was on top for the year of 2017 and who needs to step up their game for 2018. So if you’re looking to fly with the best in the coming year, here are the best U.S. airlines of 2017.
At the bottom of the pack is low-cost carrier Frontier Airlines with a score of 44.82. The Denver-based airline scored zero in terms of leg room, entertainment options, Wi-Fi availability, and complimentary refreshments. It also received a score of 0.24 out of 20 in terms of delays, but did well in terms of denied boardings and pricing, scoring 9.42 and 9.01 out of 10, respectively. Frontier serves 62 destinations, five of which are international.
With a score of 53.17, Spirit Airlines was the worst airline this year if you actually wanted to, you know, take off. The Florida-based airline serves 60 destinations throughout the Americas. Receiving a score of 3.01 out of 10 for cancelled flights, Spirit Airlines scored zero in terms of complimentary refreshments, entertainment options, leg room, and availability of Wi-Fi. Known for its low costs, however, Spirit was the leading airline in terms of pricing, receiving a score of 9.87 out of 10, making it the cheapest U.S. airline.
Although it has a relatively low score of 55.83, Southwest Airlines was the least complained-about airline, receiving a perfect score in terms of complaints, as well as complimentary refreshments, entertainment options, and leg room. Based in Dallas and serving 100 destinations, the airline also did well in terms of denied boardings, scoring 9.01 out of 10. Southwest scored poorly in terms of delays, however, receiving a 1.36 out of 20, and it also scored 4.98 out of 10 in cancelled flights and 3.63 in pricing.
Hawaii’s largest airline, serving 28 destinations in the U.S., Asia, and Oceania, received a score of 56.64 out of 100, but it turned out to be the airline with the best track record in terms of cancellations, scoring 8.52 out of 10. It also had the fewest denied boardings, scoring 9.95 out of 10, but received a zero in terms of both leg room and Wi-Fi availability. Hawaiian Airlines is also not the carrier to fly with if you have pets, scoring zero due to having 3.99 animal-related incidents per 10,000 animals transported.
ExpressJet Airlines is a subsidiary of SkyWest Airlines parent company SkyWest, Inc., mainly serving American, Delta, and United Airlines. The largest regional airline in the world and serving 194 destinations, ExpressJet scored 61.73, with a perfect score in complaints and leg room and a score of 13.69 out of 15 regarding animal-related incidents. While it scored well in denied boardings and pricing — 8.49 and 7.62 out of 10, respectively — the Georgia-based airline was the worst for mishandled baggage, scoring 1.53 out of 10, and also received 4.97 out of 10 for flight cancellations and 3.43 out of 20 for flight delays.
The world’s largest airline is only the seventh best in its home country, where it is headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. Scoring a total of 61.79, American Airlines scored poorly for its flight delays, receiving a 3.32 out of 20, as well as mishandled baggage, which earned them a score of 3.59 out of 10. American Airlines did do well with denied boardings, however, receiving 9.36 out of 10, and also scored 13.51 and 12.91 in complaints and animal-related incidents, respectively. Serving 350 destinations in 50 countries, it also received a perfect score for leg room, entertainment options, and complimentary refreshments. American Airlines's approval ratings for after this holiday season remain to be seen, however, in light of the recent computer error which has left thousands of flights without pilots, as far too many of them were able to take vacation.
Falling at the middle of the pack with a score of 62.00, JetBlue performed abysmally in terms of flight delays, receiving a score of zero out of 20. However, it did receive a perfect score in customer complaints, as well as high scores of 7.53 and 9.08 out of 10 for mishandled baggage reports and denied boardings, respectively. JetBlue was also the most comfortable airline, receiving perfect scores for leg room, entertainment options, Wi-Fi availability, and complimentary refreshments. The low-cost carrier is based in Long Island City, New York, and serves 101 destinations.
Scoring 62.30 out of 100, Virgin America makes the top five this year, thanks to a relative lack of complaints, denied boardings, and mishandled baggage reports. The Bay Area-based airline scored 14.15 out of 15 in customer complaints, and 9.88 and 8.82 out of 10 in denied boardings and mishandled baggage, respectively. It also received a perfect score for leg room and entertainment options. Currently serving 24 destinations, Virgin America is expected to be integrated into Alaska Airlines in 2018 after an acquisition by Alaska Air Group last year.
Serving 342 destinations, the Chicago-based United Airlines scored 63.38 out of 100, with perfect scores in leg room, entertainment, and complimentary refreshments. Out of the airlines scored on animal-related incidents, United scored the lowest, receiving 9.49 out of 15, but it did have a lack of denied boardings and complaints, scoring 9.57 out of 10 and 13.73 out of 15 in those categories, respectively.
Based in Utah, SkyWest Airlines is a regional airline serving 238 destinations in North America. With a score of 68.67, SkyWest Airlines manages to nab a spot in the top three U.S. airlines. Mainly serving Alaska, American, Delta, and United Airlines, SkyWest did well in terms of complaints, receiving a perfect score. The airline also received 12.81 out of 15 regarding animal-related incidents, as well as 9.23 and 9.02 out of 10 for cancellations and denied boardings. Mishandled baggage reports gave the airline a score of 3.64 out of 10, but pricing seems to have been relatively reasonable, earning a 6.38 out of 10.
With a score of 73.08, Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines comes in second among U.S. airlines. Outside of high ticket prices resulting in a low score of 3.81 out of 10, the airline largely had solid scores across the board. Delta received a perfect score for its lack of complaints, as well as 9.90 out of 10 for its lack of denied boardings. The airline, which serves 319 destinations, is also quite pet-friendly, receiving 11.52 out of 15 for animal-related incidents.
America’s best and most reliable airline in 2017 was Alaska Airlines, which received a total score of 81.01 and a perfect score in terms of customer complaints. The carrier, which is actually headquartered in the Seattle suburb of SeaTac, scored highly in denied boardings, receiving a score of 9.60 out of 10, and it’s the best airline for your pets, with a score of 14.16 out of 15. Serving 118 destinations, Alaska Airlines also received a perfect score for leg room, entertainment options, and complimentary refreshments. If financial concerns are what’s holding you back from flying with the country’s best, check out how you can save on airfare with these 10 tips every savvy traveler should know.