a row of seats in an airplane

It’s a simple question, but the answer simply isn’t…

Aisle or window? Coke or Pepsi? Tea or Coffee? Simple questions – but far from simple to answer. When it comes to the best airline in the United States, it’s important to put personal bias aside, and instead focus on the numbers. In each category, some airlines will excel, others will fail and for this reason, it’s hard to simply declare an overall winner. We’ve broken down the best U.S airlines based on the factors that impact customers, from on time performance to number of complaints, food, entertainment and fees. The best? You’ll just have to read on…

a plane flying over a body of waterThe Most On Time U.S. Airlines…

For some people, a flight is no different than catching a bus. As long as it runs on time and gets you where you need to go safely, it’s just a means of transportation. If you’re in that category, the best major U.S. airline for you is probably Delta. Hawaiian and Alaska both beat Delta in on time percentage, but Delta’s results included more than 1,500,000 more flights during the time period. Kudos to both airlines for their impressive on time percentages. This obviously means Delta also served more destinations during the year, and not having to connect goes a long way. Here’s the results from OAG.  Unfortunately, JetBlue came last.

Winner(s): Delta, Alaska, Hawaiian. Runners Up: United.

a screenshot of a graph

The Best U.S. Airlines For Lost Luggage

Losing a bag is not fun. Since Southwest is the only airline which still doesn’t charge for checked bags, we’ll give them a little shoutout here. Every other major U.S. airline now charges $30 for the first checked bag, so there’s no advantage played there. To give an accurate look at the best U.S airline for people who check bags, we’ll look at the number of baggage reports filed for delayed or lost luggage. The winner? Delta is your safest bet, with the fewest complaints. The Department of Transportation keeps track of complaints, and Delta had the lowest percentage of complaints per 1,000 passengers, followed by JetBlue. American, Frontier and United were amongst the worst.

Winner: Delta. Runners Up: JetBlue, Spriit, Hawaiian.

a table with numbers and text

The Best U.S. Airlines For Basic Economy Fares

Basic economy is the cheapest way to fly. We’ll give another shoutout here to Southwest, for not making people choose between good deals and helpful amenities like checked bags. JetBlue also deserves a shoutout for still allowing free seat assignments. As for the “big three” and Alaska the basic economy differentiations are interesting. American reversed course this year, once again allowing passengers on basic economy tickets to bring full sized carry on bags on board. Delta and Alaska also allows this, while United does not. When factoring in cost to assign a seat, what you can bring on board and the ease of changes, it’s a tie between American, Delta and Alaska for basic economy, with United in last place specifically because of the restriction against full sized carry on bags. Of course, the *real winner* here is Southwest for not offering basic…

Winner: Tie between American, Alaska, Delta.

a person holding a burritoThe Best U.S. Airlines For In-Flight Food

Dr. Charles Platkin is a noted health expert, professor and columnist and has devoted a ridiculous amount of time into ranking the best airline meals. This isn’t some silly subjective list like Coke vs. Pepsi, it’s based on science, nutrition and freshness. The comprehensive food study looks at which airlines have the greatest variety in their selections and what your best bets are from both a health and taste standpoint. Alaska and Delta tied for the top spot, followed by JetBlue and then United.

Winner: Delta Runners Up: Alaska, United.

a close-up of a planeThe Best U.S. Airline Loyalty Programs

Answering this question is like kicking a hornets nest. Do you value upgrades, miles, fee waivers, companion travel or all of the above? Generally speaking, the simplest way to evaluate a loyalty program is by rebate, and in that pursuit, the consensus falls upon Alaska Airlines. The program offers the most valuable airline miles on a cents per point basis of the U.S. competition. For the sake of simplicity, JetBlue and Southwest offer the simplest solutions, with no hoops to jump through to cash in points. As to top tier benefits, American, Delta and United each offer valuable systemwide upgrades and fee waivers. Take a look at various answers, including U.S. News, The Freddies

Winner: Alaska. Runners Up: Southwest, American.

a person holding a phoneThe Best U.S. Airlines For In-Flight Entertainment And Wifi

Have you noticed that those seat back entertainment screens are disappearing? American was amongst the first airlines to decide upon ditching seat back entertainment from new aircraft deliveries, starting with their Boeing 737 “MAX”, which also offers the lowest legroom of any U.S. airline other than Spirit or Frontier. On the other side of the coin, Delta was the first major airline to announce free in flight messaging on all flights, for all customers. Last year Virgin America was a shoe in for the title, with live TV and an extensive selection, but Alaska Airlines dropped live TV this year. United has made great strides in curating entire seasons of hit shows to pass time. For this category, we’ve selected Skytrax 2018 awards as the method, which takes into account wifi, variety of films, tv and music and availability.

Winner: Delta Runners Up: American, United.

Overall Winner: Delta.

What factors would you like to see added?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I think that one factor that could be added is when an airline does horribly badly in a category to basically add negative overall points. No surprise here, but Delta has hands down the most absolutely terrible loyalty program of any major airline. Now, many people (not myself) have had good experiences with Delta, and so are willing to overlook this glaring problem, but Boarding Area is largely about miles and points, so that area seems worthy of extra consideration.

  2. Don’t really care how you rate the airlines.,
    Fact remains. all the U.S. major carriers totally suck and are truly disgusting examples of corporate greed with no concern whatsoever for customer comfort. Cram as many people as possible into the smallest seats possible and charge for evey extra imaginable
    Domestic…. Only fly Southwest and Alaska
    International .. Avoid All U.S. carriers like the plague

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