Choosing which airline to fly with across the United States and the whole North American continent is not an easy task, if you are looking for the best value for money ratio. First of all, the largest and most popular airlines do not always provide the high quality service they advertise. And on the other hand, low-cost companies might offer much lower ticket fares but immensely disappoint their customers with flight cancellations and safety concerns (like Southwest in the past year).
But cost isn’t all that matters when picking what company to fly with. Choosing the wrong airline has the potential to take much more from us: whether it’s a major flight delay or worse, cancellation, an overbooked flight and consequently denied boarding, or mishandled / lost luggage, the amount of stress events like that can cause is rarely worth saving some dough.
A comprehensive comparison
When planning your trips in the US, you can refer to a variety of airline rankings. However, it is difficult to create a reliable comparison between air companies, given that multiple criteria can come into play. Moreover, people sometimes consider certain aspects of their journey more important than others, and might have different views on what makes an airline “good”.
Each year, WalletHub, the personal finance website, tries to analyze the best American airlines as thoroughly as possible and to provide travelers with the most objective ranking there is. The analysts at WalletHub take 14 different metrics into account when comparing nine major and two regional airlines in the United States.
The study goes well beyond just ticket prices: factors such as cancellation and delay rates, in-flight comfort, baggage handling, and in-flight comfort form each airline’s cumulative score. While some criteria may only apply to specific groups of travelers, they still play a significant role for the final ranking.
For instance, the safety of pets during air travel could be of utmost importance for those who need to embark on a journey with animals. Even major US carriers report pet fatalities and this surely is something to consider when choosing your airline.
The ranking criteria
As we already mentioned, the experts from WalletHub adopted a comprehensive approach to comparing airlines. They used 14 different metrics to assess each airline which ultimately will help you to make an informed decision as a passenger. Here are the different criteria:
- Canceled flights: the number of cancellations reported by the airline, excluding cancellations which were the result of extraordinary circumstances (bad weather, security threats or air traffic control restrictions);
- Delays: the number of flights which landed more than 15 minutes later than the originally scheduled arrival time (again, excluding delays because of extraordinary circumstances);
- Mishandled baggage reports: the number of complaints about lost, delayed, damaged or stolen luggage;
- Denied boardings: the number of passengers who had a confirmed boarding pass but were involuntarily denied boarding because their flight was overbooked by the airline;
- Animal related incidents: the number of reports about dead, hurt, or lost animals on the airline’s flights;
- Legroom: the airline receives full points on this criterion if each of its flights provides passengers with at least 30 inches of legroom;
- Entertainment options: the airline gets full points for this if most of its flights ensure the passengers have at least one type of entertainment (radio, live TV, movies or TV shows);
- Wi-Fi availability: different number of points are assigned depending on the Wi-Fi options that the airline provides (free, paid, on all or just some flights);
- Complimentary refreshments: free food or drinks offered on domestic flights longer than 2 hours;
- Price: this criterion was calculated as the result of the passenger revenue for each airline divided by the available seat miles;
- Fatal Injuries in Aviation Accidents: the number of fatalities related to aircraft issues (so for example, if a passenger had a heart attack during a flight, that incident would not be included in the statistics);
- Injuries in Aviation Incidents & Accidents: number of injuries (both for passengers and crew) that resulted from an aviation incident and required medical care);
- Aviation Incidents & Accidents: airlines were scored based on the ratio of the number of accidents and incidents divided by the total number of flights operated by the airline;
- Fleet Age: airlines receive full points if their average fleet age is below 10 years (older aircrafts are more likely to have technical issues and cause problems).
There are some other things that WalletHub's ranking doesn't cover when it comes to customer satisfaction. Things like the airlines’ route network, loyalty programs, customer service, and the travel experience you get with different ticket fares (basic economy, premium economy, and business class) are also important.
These, however, cannot be objectively measured and scored. So, if you're making your airline choice based on these criteria, you'll need to do some research on your own (you might find our Airlines section helpful).
The ranking: Top 10 North American best airlines to fly
And now, here comes the moment you’ve been waiting for, the 9 biggest American carriers and two regional airlines (Skywest Airlines and Envoy Air), ranked according to the criteria explained above. Keep in mind that the airlines are listed in ascending order, meaning that the first on the list is the one that has the worst score.
Southwest Airlines (23.39)
Frontier Airlines (45.13)
American Airlines (47.06)
Envoy Air (52.25)
JetBlue Airways (55.46)
Hawaiian Airlines (57.14)
Alaska Airlines (59.03)
United Airlines (62.83)
Skywest Airlines (63.71)
Spirit Airlines (66.57)
Delta Air Lines (66.79)
As you can see, Delta took the top spot as the overall winner but WalletHub created some additional rankings in various categories, knowing that each traveler prioritizes different criteria when choosing their preferred airline. Here are the 2023 winners in each category:
Most affordable: Spirit Airlines
Most reliable: Delta Air Lines
Most comfortable: JetBlue Airways
Safest: Envoy Air
Best for pets: Delta, Skywest and Alaska Airlines
With that, we conclude this year’s overview of the best airlines to fly in North America. We hope you enjoyed reading about it and will find it helpful when planning your next domestic trip. And if you happen to fly overseas (to Europe) and your flight gets delayed or canceled, contact us and let us help you get your compensation. We will offer you our professional help on a “No win, no fee” basis!