This is part five in a week-long series on Fodor’s Summer Travel Survey. You can read part one, part two, part three, and part four. Fodor’s Travel surveyed 1,527 readers through our newsletter. Want to take future Fodor’s surveys? Make your voice heard! Sign up here.
Air travel isn’t what it used to be decades ago. Space is getting tighter, rules are getting stricter, and passengers are getting insufferable. The pandemic has made everything worse: staffing shortages, passenger brawls, unexplained delays and cancellations, and uncertainty about entry requirements. Everything feels absurdly chaotic.
But we wanted to find out from our readers which airlines and airports have risen above the challenges to create a genuinely pleasant experience. And we wanted to find out which ones are worse than ever. So we asked for the best and worst over the last year. We got some interesting (and confusingly polarizing) opinions. We also noticed that as international travel has been limited over the last year, ire and praise were heaped upon domestic carriers and airports.
The Worst Airports in the World
When we asked American travelers about the worst airports they had the misfortune of flying through, many focused their anger on similar issues: surly TSA agents, long queues, and a lack of information from personnel.
Many, many travelers picked Los Angeles International Airport as the worst airport in the world.
Many, many travelers picked Los Angeles International Airport as the worst airport in the world. There were mentions of the ongoing construction and one flier wrote, “It’s an unorganized nightmare. Even with the constant construction, they could have better signage and assistance for travelers. I hate that airport!”
On the other side of the country, the New York-area airports aren’t doing so well, either. About Newark Liberty International Airport a traveler said, “It’s always too hot or too cold and immigration and customs is a disaster.” New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport has also caused distress to fliers and someone mentioned it’s an embarrassment that international travelers have to touch down there. One even mentioned they were “searched,” “groped,” and “humiliated” at JFK. The worst ranking offenders:
1. Los Angeles International Airport
2. Chicago-O’Hare International Airport
3. Newark Liberty International Airport
4. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
5. John F. Kennedy International Airport
The Best Airports in the World
Despite also being much maligned as the fourth-worst airport (readers complained that it has long lines, is crowded, and is too big), Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has even more fans than detractors. It confusingly sits at the top of this list. Readers say it’s well-designed, features many food options, and carriers are typically on time.
Tampa also won major brownie points for being “well-marked” and “beautiful.” Readers also appreciated the Airport Marriott if an overnight stay is needed, and found the COVID testing to be easy. The best in the country as voted by readers are as follows:
1. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport
2. Tampa International Airport
3. Denver International Airport
4. San Francisco International Airport
5. Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport
The Worst Airlines in the World
Travelers seemed to be really unhappy with American Airlines.
Airlines in the U.S. have a lot of strikes against them. Recently, it’s been a mess to fly domestically due to all the unexplained cancellations and delays. Many carriers work in such a way that if one flight gets delayed, it’s a domino effect of everything falling on its network. Often, airlines don’t sufficiently compensate travelers for delays, cancellations, hotel stays, and cabs, or often it’s a long road to get refunds—both are unacceptable to passengers.
In this survey, travelers seemed to be really unhappy with American Airlines. Passengers complained about delays, lack of adequate compensation, and poor customer service. One even mentioned its old planes. We have seen American Airlines at the top of another unflattering list—the airline most likely to lose your luggage—so it’s not hard to believe that it has troubled passengers enough to be flagged as the worst.
For United (the second on this list), one respondent wrote four eloquent words: “rude people, late flights.”
Readers also complained about Southwest, with one highlighting their experience: “Southwest delayed our flight a couple of hours because they didn’t have enough ground crew to load our airplane. After that, they made an unscheduled stop in L.A. to pick up multiple flight crews to bring to Hawaii. Another [90-minute] delay.”
The name Spirit also echoed due to the added extra costs of flying on it, “you have to pay for seats [selection], luggage, carry-on.” What does the ticket price really cover, is the real question. The winners (?) of the worst airlines include:
1. American Airlines
2. United Airlines
3. Southwest Airlines
4. Spirit Airlines
5. Delta Air Lines
The Best Airlines in the World
Interestingly, the same airlines that were tagged the worst by some were upvoted the best by others. With the exception of Alaska’s addition (and Spirit’s subtraction), it’s an identical list (though in a different order).
Delta, which readers listed as the fifth-worst airline, got good marks from others for its in-flight entertainment, cleanliness, consistency in quality of service, comfortable seats, and reliability. Another flier thought Delta’s snack options were not as plentiful as JetBlue’s, but overall their experience has been good: “Comfortable seats, a free surprise upgrade even without status, lots of outlets to charge my phone in flight.”
Southwest is really winning big with its free luggage and no cancellation fee policies. One traveler said, “It’s one of the friendlier airlines.” And another reader mentioned their happy, fun crew. One passenger also loves how they conduct boarding, so “no one is elbowing to jostle to get in front of you.”
American, considered the worst airline by many of our readers, was complimented for its friendly staff, spacious seats with phone chargers, on-time arrival, free snacks and beverages, and clean bathrooms. “They have excellent services for handicapped people. They have also never changed or canceled my flight recently.” Reader’s favorite airlines include:
1. Delta Air Lines
2. Southwest Airlines
3. American Airlines
4. United Airlines
5. Alaska Airlines
There were many answers that alluded to the fact that they are all the same, or “equally bad,” so maybe that’s why it was difficult for people to pick a clear winner.
I think you should have considered the airport in Charlotte, NC. I arrived there from Europe and had to wait a long time on the plane because there wasn't room in immigration & customs. On leaving customs, I found that there was no secure route to connecting flights; so everyone had to go out to the entrance hall and go through security. Of course, I had missed my flight, and had to run to the last one of the day.
Who took this survey? DFW is far and away the worst airport, with arguably the worst weather concerns, resulting in both flight delays/cancelations and dangerous landing /takeoff conditions. I avoid it at all costs.
All I can say is that the article should have been named "The best and worst AMERICAN airlines and airports, since all you presented were American airlines and airports.
For a travel magazine you are extremely localistic. Seems like outside the US, for you, there is just a big black hole!
Completely agree. The silly guidelines blocked me from pointing that out too.
you put the same airlines in worst list then in best list,, you also call article In the World,.,. who's world? trying to please your advertisers? i mean london's Heathrow is a nightmare, as is Paris' Charles de gaulle,,Ryanair and Jet Blue have ZERO phone communication,Jet Blue says it can be done online which in fact if you're travelling with "partner" Aer Lingus nothing can be done online in terms of seats, confirmation, or any flight changes. the mid eastern airlines like Etihad, Emirates, Gulf Air, Qatar shame the US airlines. Air France , Aer Lingus, British Air actually ANSWER the phone and also have an interest in maintaining customers.