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airplaneWho’s the ace in the battle of the airlines? Consumer Reports released its U.S. airline rankings yesterday, revealing which golden carrier claimed the coveted number-one spot. The verdict? Southwest snagged the top trophy, with JetBlue a close second, and Alaska, Frontier and AirTran trailing respectively behind.

A poll of nearly 15,000 Consumer Reports readers ranked 10 airlines based on factors including seating comfort, baggage handling, cabin-crew service, ease of check-in, in-flight entertainment and cabin cleanliness. The airlines’ total scores were tallied on a scale of 0 to 100. Southwest secured 87, while JetBlue got a healthy score of 84. The biggest loser, US Airways, came in last with a score of 61.

Four of the survey’s five top scores were achieved by discount airlines — a verdict likely influenced by major carriers’ abundant baggage fees. Southwest and JetBlue permit passengers to check at least one bag for free, whereas major airlines charge for checked baggage on domestic flights. Customer service may also have played a part in pushing the big airlines to the bottom of the rankings. American, Delta, United and US Airways, the carriers with the lowest scores, all registered below average in the check-in ease and cabin-crew service categories.

But really, is anyone surprised? In The Real Reason Fliers Hate the Airlines, Traveler’s Ed compares most airlines to a bad friend: “Missed a connection or late to the flight due to bad weather? Too bad for you! We can’t fly due to bad weather? Too bad for you!”

Here’s another revelation that failed to shock me: In the seating comfort category, basically every airline save JetBlue and Southwest bombed — and even our winning discount duo scored average at best. Southwest offers 32 to 33 inches of legroom in its economy-class seats, which, according to stats on SeatGuru.com, beats economy-class seats on loads of major airline-operated planes by an inch or two (and sometimes even three: American Airlines’ leg-cramping Aerospatiale/Alenia 72 planes offer a paltry 30 inches of pitch).

An inch doesn’t sound like a lot. But when your knees are in your face and you’ve got four hours to go, even meager units of length become vital.

What are your picks for the best and worst airlines?

– written by Caroline Costello

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network. The TripAdvisor Media Network also owns SeatGuru.com.

16 Responses to “Consumer Reports Reveals Best and Worst Airlines”

  1. Matt Leonard says:

    The worst airline to me is generally whatever airline I last flew.

  2. Dolores says:

    We just flew Turkish Air for the first time, and it felt like going back in time. Beautiful interior in the plane, extremely comfortable and roomy (able to sleep) economy seats ($700 pp) that made United E+ look like cattle car seating, excellent food, outstanding “first class” service. I’d fly TA every time if I could.

    • Barbara says:

      Seems to me that almost any airline that isn’t US owned is better than what is here. Even small airlines on short flights serve full meals and have more room and are cleaner. I just flew Continental to the Caribbean and Delta home to Denver. I flew first class. The seats were dirty, uncomfortable, old. The restroom had a sticky floor before we even took off. Coming home from the from San Juan to Atlanta a really horrible meal was served. The flight after that at dinner time had bags of chips, p-nut butter cups, a couple bananas and little bags of nuts to choose from – no meal. And that was first class. Horrible!!

  3. Flawed Airline Polls Could Mask Truth!

    They should have counted consumer feedback only as 50%. Another 25% made up by profit and loss statements from Share Holders. Then 25% of course is given to Homeland Security and whoever else must watchdog over airport and flight security. This makes for a truer index of what an Airlines health really is.

    Comfort, profitability and safety are all equal components of what we deem a great airlines or a smooth flight! If I now learn one airline saves me 7 dollars and is coupled with having 4 more inches of leg room, like big deal. I like seeing the whole picture. True… a lot of this is steeped in opinion.

    I have some friends that will feel raped and pilferaged for being made to go through a body scanner at an airport. That’s their right, I suppose. Me? I will feel raped and pilferaged if you do “not” put me through the tightest of security — because if I went through easily, so did “they.”

    These people I call “they” scare me to bits. It’s just the thought of incinerating in a plane that “they” flew into a tall building holds no appeal. None at all. In fact, landing safely is “my” little pet peeve!

  4. kay van hees says:

    The worst and most cramped I have ever been was with Air Tahiti Nui. I was in the center row, outside seat. I noticed the window aisle seats had approx. 6″ more leg room. (I measure it as I was so dumbfounded at the obvious difference when the occupant left her seat to take a break.) This squishing of seats happened after we had completed the New Zealand to Tahiti route and came about when we did the Tahiti to LA route. (I had the same seat both legs of the trip.)

    • Barbara says:

      Oh, I agree 100% I’m 5’10” and was miserable for the entire flight. Even though I had an empty row the arm rests weren’t made to go up. Narrow seats with no leg room!

  5. Otto says:

    So — where are the worst ????

  6. thomas pavey says:

    Sri lankan Airlines. My wife and i flew from london to colombo. there was absolutely no leg room and we are of only small build. i asked the Steward if he would like to sit in the seat to understand my complaint. i wrote to Sri lankan Airlines but never received a reply.

  7. Glenda Burnside says:

    Airlines lie. They know if you have $100 credit for a flight, the next flight you book will be $100 plus, more. Delta from Denver to Madison is over $100 more than other airlines, and I have to change in Minneapolis. I’m a senior, arthritic, and have a service dog. So Delta put me in bulkhead, saying the seats were ‘wider’ there. They lie, according to Flight Guru, the seats in bulkhead are much narrower than other seats on the plane.
    Back to my first point: I could have booked a non-stop for over $100 less on several other airlines, but my friend booked Delta, trying to help me with the cost…it’s costing me $50 MORE with her credit than all other airlines…no wonder people hate airlines.
    I’m old enough to remember when flight was a treat, now it is torture for anyone over 5’8″ and over 135 pounds.

  8. Allan Yarboro says:

    If given a choice I will not fly any US flagged carrier, they rank very poor compared to foreign flagged airlines. I remember when flying was a pleasure, but it’s not anymore, more like a dirty bus. I usually try to fly First class whenever it’s available, but with the same comments.

  9. Colin Laraway says:

    Fly Singapore Airlines whenever possible. Pay whatever they ask. You’ll not be disappointed, even in coach.

  10. julesrules says:

    i live in Atlanta, GA, and have to admit that our own airline, Delta, is horrible in on-time dep/ar as well as crazy baggage fees and charging for booze overseas!

  11. As an International person sending me an email showing the best and worst of Americian airliness serves no purpose. What I want is all airlines to be in the picture and I fly Emirates also exclusively whenever I can and have had no problems in the last 4 years.

  12. Pat says:

    Southwest Airlines one of the highest rating??? You’ve got to be kidding!!! During a Southwest Airlines flight in April 2011 part of the roof came off the plane in mid-air. This airline has been fined millions of dollars for not adhering to their maintenance schedule! Years ago, flying was comfortable and somewhate luxurious (I am dating myself here!) Now I liken flying to taking the bus. Accually, some buses are more comfortable!

  13. Raleigh Wilfahrt says:

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  14. Rebecca says:

    I love Swiss Airlines – always clean, wonderful food, excellent service. I often travel overseas and none of the American operated airlines get good scores. United is often very dirty and American isn’t much better.

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