The Worst U.S. Airlines for Customer Satisfaction, Ranked

The Worst U.S. Airlines for Customer Satisfaction, Ranked

You’re not imagining things: air travel has gotten a lot worse. No checked bags, less and less legroom, charging for wifi when it costs the airline the same amount whether or not you use it — it’s all part of a strategy that experts call “calculated misery,” where companies make your experience more unpleasant on purpose to encourage paid upgrades.

But even in a generally despised industry, any frequent flier will tell you that some airlines are better than others. We’ve lined up the worst airlines based on the annual Customer Satisfaction Index from Statista, a market research firm that’s been running a survey on airlines since 1995.

Here’s the airline hall of shame, ranked from best to worst.

Best – Alaska Airlines

Photo: Bradley Caslin / (Shutterstock)

Flying Alaska this year? You’re in luck: the company is the fifth largest airline in North America, but it scores number one for customer satisfaction. It came in with a score of 81, significantly higher than the average rating of 76.

American Airlines

Photo: GagliardiPhotography / (Shutterstock)

You could do a lot worse than American Airlines, apparently, but it’s not exactly a winner. American is the world’s largest airline, operating almost 6,700 flights per day, according to the company. It seems most passengers get off the plane relatively unscathed, though its C+ customer satisfaction score of 78 leaves a lot to be desired.

Southwest Airlines

Photo: USA STOCK IMAGES / (Shutterstock)

Southwest ties with American Airlines for second place. In part, that’s probably thanks to the company’s wild strategy of avoiding many of its competitors’ intentionally miserable policies. Checked bags are still free, for example, and you’ve always been able to cancel your flight at no extra cost in exchange for a credit that never expires. Where it probably loses points is the fact that Southwest operates a system that relies on way more connecting flights.

United Airlines

Photo: Miguel Lagoa / (Shutterstock)

Third place is a significant improvement for United. The company’s satisfaction score fell dramatically in 2017 after a gruesome viral video scandalized the internet. After a flight had already boarded, United demanded a 69-year-old doctor named David Dao get off the plane so an employee could take his seat instead. Dao refused, saying he had patients to attend to at his destination. He was then forcibly removed, allegedly knocking him unconscious in the process as security personnel dragged him off the plane by his arms in front of horrified passengers. Remember that? United would probably prefer you didn’t.


Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky / (Shutterstock)

Up next is another tie. Coming in fourth place, JetBlue is a relatively new player in the skies. It started out with a decidedly consumer-friendly attitude that earned it several years as passengers’ most satisfying airline. It’s since caved to market pressure and started cramming more seats into coach, along with other unpleasantries. Today JetBlue gets a decidedly mediocre score of 76, the industry average.

Delta Airlines

Photo: Miguel Lagoa / (Shutterstock)

Also in fourth place, Delta scores 76 on the satisfaction scale after creeping up from an abysmal worst-in-class rating back in 2011. The airline’s been a pioneer in passenger misery, with innovations like dividing the cabin into a caste system with as many as five different classes, each more desolate than the last. But don’t let that scare you! It only gets worse from here.

Allegiant Air

Photo: Robin Guess / (Shutterstock)

At last, we get to the budget airlines which, in fairness, are a bit more open about how terrible they are. Like its cheapo competitors, Allegiant offers you an impressively low price that nets you a seat on a plane, period. “We collect $US110 from you at the end of your trip,” CEO Maurice J. Gallagher Jr., put it plainly in a 2009 interview. “If I tried to charge you $US110 up front, you wouldn’t pay it. But if I sell you a $US75 ticket and you self-select the rest, you will.”

Allegiant is also famous for safety problems. A series of investigations in 2016 and 2017 found Allegiant was as much as four times more likely than other airlines to have in-flight mechanical problems, including “mid-air engine failures, smoke and fumes in the cabin, rapid descents, flight control malfunctions, hydraulic leaks, and aborted takeoffs.”

Frontier Airlines

Photo: nyker / (Shutterstock)

Frontier has come in near the bottom of the list ever since Statista first included it in its survey back in 2015. The “ultra-low-cost” airline isn’t as low cost as it seems. You’ll pay onerous fees for things like carry-on bags, in-flight beverages, and choosing a seat. Frontier even charges you a fee for the luxury of booking your flight in the first place. If you buy your flight on the company’s website or over the phone, you’ll pay an extra $US23 for the privilege. The only way to avoid that cost is to buy your ticket at the airport.

If you’re looking for fun, may I recommend the Frontier Airlines page on TripAdvisor, which includes glowing reviews such as “staff laughing at customer left outside in wheelchair” and “I should have read the reviews and not the price!”

Worst – Spirit Airlines

Photo: Ken Wolter / (Shutterstock)

Spirit Airlines’ bright yellow planes have been making people miserable for a long, long time. It’s come in dead last on Statista’s list every year since 2015, except for 2018, when it tied Frontier Airlines for last place. Frontier is so despised there’s a Facebook group dedicated to the subject called “I Hate Frontier Airlines” with over 6,000 members. And yet, Spirit manages time and again to take the title of worst airline.

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