Which airline will provide you the best overall experience in the USA? According to the annual Consumer Reports study the best options for travelers are Virgin America, JetBlue, and Southwest Airlines. Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines round out the top five and are the only carriers to score above an 80 in the survey. At the other end of the spectrum, Spirit Airlines scored a 50 in this year's poll, a number described by Consumer Reports as "one of the lowest overall scores for any company we've ever rated."
The top airlines all scored high in customer service, baggage handling, and in-flight service. Both JetBlue and Virgin America received high marks for in-flight entertainment as well, despite JetBlue not yet having WiFi available on board (it is expected later this year). Both Virgin America and Southwest do. Virgin America and JetBlue have individual in-seat screens at all seats which customers enjoy.
Towards the bottom of the rankings were all the legacy airlines. Delta topped that group with a score of 71 while United, struggling last year to complete their integration with merger partner Continental, came in at the bottom with a score of 63. Low marks for these airlines were seen in the categories of cabin cleanliness, in-flight entertainment, and seat comfort.
Respondents also complained about flights being more crowded (they are at or near all-time highs across the industry) and cramped seating. With the legacy carriers (and Spirit) having, on average, the least personal space for passengers, it is not surprising that they showed up at the bottom of the list.
Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza took umbrage with the rankings, noting that they ignored the fare paid by travelers. While many Spirit customers in the survey noted they felt constantly "dinged" for more fees, the base fares are often the lowest. Baldanza believes that his airline's passengers are still getting good value given the lower fares.
The rankings of the 11 airlines are based on a survey of more than 16,000 subscribers conducted in February 2013. Those surveyed flew a combined total of more than 31,000 domestic flights.
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