If you’re looking to book a trip this year, WalletHub has some valuable insight on which airlines to choose (or avoid). They recently announced their rankings for both best and worst airlines in 2023 by comparing the 9 largest U.S. airlines, plus two regional carriers. Fourteen important metrics across four categories (baggage and departures, animal incidents, in-flight comfort and cost, and safety) were used to quantify overall service quality and functional performance of each airline.
American Airlines, Frontier, and Southwest all unfortunately fell to the bottom of WalletHub’s rankings. Southwest, in particular, was likely hurt by their major issues with delays and cancellations in the past year. However, after collecting and analyzing 2022 flight data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, WalletHub shared their findings with each airline—so, hopefully, even the worst-performing airlines will make future improvements.
Delta Air Lines has the lowest rate of cancelations, delays, mishandled luggage and denied boardings. Thanks to their reliability, Delta also was WalletHub’s overall best airline to choose. It didn’t perform particularly well in the price category; but for those looking to ensure smooth travels, the extra cost may be worth it in the end.
JetBlue leads the pack in terms of in-flight experience, offering free amenities such as Wi-Fi, extra legroom, and complimentary snacks and beverages.
While JetBlue has the edge over competitors now, airlines have plenty of other ways they can improve traveler’s experience. Ahmed Abdelghany, an associate dean at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, suggests there is much more that airlines can do when it comes to improving passenger comfort: “The airline is dealing with the passengers at different stages of the trip including before the flight, during the flight, in connection (if any), and after the flight. Of course, the airline can streamline the whole process to focus on passengers’ comfort. You can think of the different stages that passengers experience during the flight starting from buying the ticket, traveling to the airport, parking (if needed), checking in, passing security, waiting at the gate, boarding, finding space for carry-on, in-flight service, deplaning, connecting to another flight (if any), and baggage claiming. There is a large room for improving the comfort level of passengers during each of these stages. In particular, during the flight, airlines help passengers locate space for carry-on bags. Airlines can increase the legroom between seats, allowing passengers to stretch out and have more space to move. Also, comfortable seat cushions can improve passengers’ comfort during long flights. Replacing older cushions with newer, more comfortable ones is a relatively simple measure to implement. Furthermore, airlines can improve the variety and quality of in-flight entertainment. They can also offer complimentary snacks and beverages during flights can help passengers feel more comfortable and satisfied. In addition, maintaining a clean cabin environment, with regular cleaning and disinfection, can help passengers feel more comfortable and safer.”
Spirit Airlines is the best airline for budget flyers. This may be one of the most important points when travelers look for flights, due to the effects of inflation making budgets tighter and tighter. Cody Christensen, associate professor at South Dakota State University’s aviation program suggests inflation in the aviation industry may be here to stay: “As inflation increases so does pilot training, aircraft acquisition, and capital improvement projects. Sustained inflation will lead to a slowdown in the aviation sector.”
Additionally, smaller airports and regional flights may be impacted by inflation, Christensen believes: “As the number of pilots willing to work for the pay and the regional airline schedule decreases, we will see a decrease in the number of flights to small and medium-sized communities. The aircraft will continue to get bigger, which in turn will decrease the number of flights into and out of spoke communities. Consumers need to be ready for increased ticket prices and less availability in the coming years. Many military pilots and pilots trained by collegiate aviation are bypassing the regional airlines and instead moving on to National airlines … If they are hired by regional airlines, their tenure before moving on to a major airline such as Delta, United, or UPS is much less.”
If you’re traveling with pets, there are thankfully plenty of options when it comes to animal safety. Three airlines tied for being most pet-friendly, Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines and SkyWest—each of them reported zero incidents with pets.
Envoy Air is the safest in 2023. Envoy is one of two regional airlines in WalletHub’s rankings, and mostly serves American Airlines. The safety runner-up (and winner in the national airlines group) is Spirit Airlines, which also happens to be the most affordable airline on WalletHub’s list. Oftentimes, if a flight price seems “too good to be true,” critics suggest that safety may be lacking. But in Spirit’s case, the best of both worlds is possible; nervous flyers can rest easy knowing that they didn’t compromise safety for a good deal.
— To view the full rankings, visit WalletHub.