Smart SpendingSmart Spending

The worst airlines in America

A former underdog nabs the top spot.

By Money Staff Aug 8, 2014 2:55PM

This post comes from Catey Hill at partner site MarketWatch.

MarketWatch on MSN MoneyBetter pick your airline carefully, or you’ll be at a higher risk of getting bumped off flights, losing your luggage or having your flights delayed or canceled, a new survey reveals.

According to a report released Thursday by, some domestic airlines perform better than others when it comes to canceled flights, on-time arrivals, mishandled bags, denied boardings, and customer satisfaction. This year Delta, which typically ends up toward the bottom of the performance list, ranked No. 1 in overall performance, thanks to more on-time arrivals, fewer canceled flights and mishandled bags and better customer service. “Delta is this year’s unsung hero,” the report revealed. It was followed by Virgin America, Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, and Frontier, in that order.

747 plane landed, Miami airport, Florida © Juan Silva, PhotographerOn the not-so-good side of this list are Southwest, Airtran (now part of Southwest), American, US Airways (now part of American Airlines), and United, which ranked dead last.

United’s abysmal ranking may be due to the fact that it had the highest number of boarding denials (nearly 246 per one million passengers, compared with just 3.58 per one million for JetBlue, which ranked highest in this category) of all the airlines examined as well as the lowest overall customer satisfaction score (it ranked 60 out of 100, compared with 79 out of 100 for JetBlue, which had the best customer satisfaction score).

American and US Airways have the second-lowest customer satisfaction scores and have a high number of mishandled bags. AirTran has the highest number of denied boardings and mishandled bags, and Southwest gets low marks in terms of mishandled bags and on-time arrivals.

Of course, these overall rankings are more nuanced than they seem. While Delta ranked first in overall performance, its boarding denials are fairly high (more than 74 per one million passengers, compared with just 3.58 per one million for JetBlue).

George Hobica, the founder of, says JetBlue’s boarding denials are low because it is one of the only airlines that doesn’t routinely overbook flights. And though JetBlue only ranked third in overall performance, it has the highest scores in terms of both customer satisfaction and the fewest denied boardings. Indeed, Hobica notes that JetBlue also has more legroom and “a better economy-class experience” so it’s often a great bet for flyers, even though it didn’t get the top spot this year. And Virgin America (No. 2) has the fewest mishandled bags and Alaska Airlines (No. 3) has the highest percentage of on-time arrivals.

While some airlines score better than others, the industry as a whole is still hated by consumers. According to a 2014 survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, out of the 43 industries measured, airlines ranked 40th in terms of customer satisfaction (only Internet service providers, social media companies and cable and subscription TV providers got worse scores).

For a more detailed list of airline performance, look here.

More from MarketWatch

The airlines don't care because there are plenty of mindless sheep who like being treated badly for a cheap flight. As far as I'm concerned there hasn't been a good airline since the 70s when they left the glamorous 50s/60s style of flying and became greyhound buses with wings and smelly passengers in their jogging pants.
Aug 8, 2014 5:33PM
Southwest doesn't charge to change a flight. They don't charge for (2) checked baggage. They give out peanuts or pretzels. They get you there safely with somewhat roomy leather seats. The on time issues are on the mend. If they oversell the flight volunteers can get a r/t ticket. Why aren't they at the top?
Aug 8, 2014 3:49PM
I've flown Southwest many times - no complaints!
Aug 8, 2014 6:35PM

I was a million miler with United and after they refused to honor my travel voucher, I switched to Delta.  What a difference!  Continental was a great airline and I'm sorry to see they had merged with United.  United's tainted attitude will be the death of them. 

Aug 8, 2014 7:10PM
I don't get it.  Americans are taller (and some might say more obese, but let's be fair, while one can (usually) do something about one's girth, one's height is genetically predetermined) than most.  And yet US airlines continue to SHRINK seats and legroom to the point where someone who is 6'3"and a fairly athletic 200-205 lbs spends his flight eating his knees.  (And in some cases, being charged to check his baggage, which due to his seat's small size, he couldn't possibly stuff under the seat in front of him -- the overhead bin already being jammed with wheelie bags).  It's about time airlines recognized they have bigger people to cater to, and start making room for them!
Aug 8, 2014 6:41PM
Its not just the airlines , everything is like this now because nothing means anything to anyone. The airlines are just another industry swallowed up by the non caring corporate nonsense . if you buy a tooth brush your going to have a problem today, there is no service left anywhere in the world . First you have to care . it is now an animal world .. Welcome To The Jungle..  
Aug 8, 2014 7:08PM

Best AIRLINES for me, for my family and friends is SOUTHWEST.

We always OPT SOUTHWEST before any other airlines.

They  are on-time most of the time. Easy to reschedule and cancel without penalty.

Their mileage program is the best. Never lost my luggage's so far and their flight attendants are so happy and cheerful and always ready to crack a joke or 2.

I don't think there is any other flight in US that provide tons of peanuts, cookies, pretzels and water/soda to their economy class passengers.

I always choose to fly SWA before any other airlines.

I don't know how the writer of this article get theirs stats from looks like a biased article .

Aug 8, 2014 7:00PM
Airlines:  One of the few industries in the country that treat their customers as adversaries. 
Aug 8, 2014 5:27PM
Well that is a hard choice to make, which airline is the worst.  Finding a good airline is like trying to find an honest democrat in the government.
Aug 8, 2014 6:22PM

I regularly fly on Delta on business and they are horrible!!

Their on-time performance is statistically enhanced due to them increasing the flying time 50% in some cases between point A and B....just so the on-time performance looks good. What used to be a 1hour is listed as a 1.5 hour trip. They are not fooling anyone!!

I'd gladly fly another airline, however, they have monopolized the southeast market.

Their general attitude on the phone and in person is one of arrogance. They have the attitude that you are lucky to be flying with them. 

Aug 8, 2014 6:18PM
Southwest is great!
I would walk before I would fly Delta.  Delta sucks  always has
Aug 8, 2014 7:49PM
Ha, ha, ha United. You are truly horrid.  I missed a flight from San Francisco to Sydney because the planes they keep in St. Louis are old pieces of junk.  I was going to see my husband who was deployed for a year.  They made me wait twenty-four hours and did not try to get another flight out earlier.  I only had thirteen days with him, and missing one day when your husband is in the Middle East for a whole year is a horrible feeling.  Screw you United!   You suck!!! 
Aug 8, 2014 6:20PM
I love Southwest and Frontier.  Best prices by far.
Aug 8, 2014 6:27PM
I hate flying domestic airlines these days, and I used to for years.  I'll take Qantas, Singapore, Korea, ANA, Nippon, or Air China any day, and the prices are competitive!  Their service, courtesy, and amenities blow the domestics and their cost cutting accountants into the dirt.
Aug 8, 2014 3:48PM
What is particularly humorous is that no matter the rankings, customers will (more often than not) still book the cheapest fares. They will quickly complain when things don't go to suit them, but they ignore the rankings.  USAirways/American Airlines just reported record profits for the 3rd quarter.  Go figure!
Aug 8, 2014 7:04PM
Use to fly united 2 K a year for years. They robbed my miles and havent flown on them since. You can imagine the bad mouthing and dollars they lost from my family and friends
Aug 8, 2014 7:18PM
I'm retired from American, so is my late brother, my late sister never made retirement from Eastern, Lorenzo killed Eastern and robbed them blind. Obviously American was my choice for a long time but all has changed since those days. "Robert Crandal", mostly feared by competition and associates, was, indeed, AMERICAN AIRLINES. He single-handedly, pulled this airline out of danger and turned it into the # 1 airline back in the 70's and 80's. After his retirement and a new regime of management took over, "within" 2 to 3 years, the new management team were begging him to come back. They had destroyed what he had built up in no time flat. Mr. Crandal, thoughtfully, came out of retirement to, once again, fix what the others kept ruining. Word has it that Mr. Crandal finally told the new idiots he was done fixing their screw-ups, either get in the business or get out. American has never been the same since. After 30 personal years and another 50 years combined with my sister and brother, I probably have more knowledge than any management and definitely have more knowledge than any 10 of these new bean counter, college so-called grads that came in here and thought they knew it all. American, particularly, but most airlines in the US are so heavy on the top with the moneymongers that by the time it filters to the employee's, the employee's are all being raped by management, so as it filters to the public, YOU are the ones who really get dumped on in the end...
Aug 8, 2014 6:13PM
I like Southwest airline to fly.  My husband and I have not had any problems whatsoever with them.  My second airline to fly in the U.S.A. is Alaska Airlines.  To fly overseas only El Al Airlines which is an Israeli airline is all we fly on.  If El Al doesn't go there, we don't period.
Aug 9, 2014 1:36AM
United - Worst airline ever!  I WILL NEVER EVER TRAVEL WITH THEM NO MATTER WHAT!  LISTEN TO MY HORROR STORY!  Two years ago I booked a flight from Cleveland to Madrid, Spain with a stop at Dulles in DC.  When I arrived at the Cleveland airport, the connecting flight from Chicago was delayed so they transferred me to a flight to Toronto on Air Canada (which is supposedly an affiliate of United) which would take me to  London with a connection to Madrid.  When I arrived at Toronto, they did not have me listed  on the flight manifest so I was stranded in Toronto at 9:00 at night. There seems to be some kind of rivalry between Air Canada and United since (although they are the SAME COMPANY - they refuse to recognize each others bookings.  I argued with the Air Canada people for an hour at the stupid Toronto airport.   I ended up sleeping on the benches until morning.  The next day to book another flight to DC to Madrid.  When I got to Madrid - THEY HAD LOST MY LUGGAGE. I spent 10 days in in Spain with NO LUGGAGE - NO CLOTHES WHATSOEVER!  I had to go out and purchase clothes at the Cortes Ingles and H&M to have something to wear which I had to pay for with my own money and wait until I got back to the States to get a refund.   I have since learned to pack some items in my travel on bag.  I did not get my luggage back until I returned.  And guess what?  IT TOOK A MONTH UNTIL I GOT MY BAGGAGE!  For all the misery, the only compensation I got was $400 OFF MY NEXT FLIGHT!  I did not even get a free flight for all the hassle I experienced.  It also took almost two months to get reimbursement for the clothing and sundry items I had to purchase while in Spain.  NEVER FLY UNITED!!
Aug 8, 2014 8:57PM
Its so sad that if you want to fly on the best airliners in the world, you have to look at foreign carriers. No American carrier can even compare to the likes of Lufthansa, Cathay Pacific, Emirates,....
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.