It’s never been more convenient for the average person to travel thousands of miles than it is today. Distances that not too long ago would have taken days or weeks to cover can now be managed safely in a matter of hours thanks to modern civil aviation. Still, kvetching about commercial air travel is practically a rite of passage, and sometimes – perhaps too often – those complaints are completely legit.
Take, for instance, passengers on a recent Delta Air Lines flight from the Bahamas to Atlanta on a flight that was diverted to Georgia’s Savannah International Airport due to bad weather. The travelers languished on the tarmac for more than five hours without food or water and a single broken toilet. Customs officials blamed the deboarding delay to slow communication from Delta, an issue all the more flummoxing considering the original flight as planned would have taken less than half the time the passengers spent trapped in an aluminum tube within eyeshot of relief.
Despite this and other recent incidents, Delta is considered to be one of the best North American carriers, leading its competitors in on-time arrivals: More than 80% of its domestic flights land on time, compared, for instance, to barely 60% of flights on Spirit Airlines.
These and other findings come from a 24/7 Tempo review of J.D. Power’s 2023 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, the basis for the ranking below. (Internationally, these are the world’s best airlines according to passengers.)
Out of 11 major domestic carriers – including two Canadian operations, Air Canada and Calgary-based WestJet – Delta ranks second after Southwest Airlines in overall satisfaction among customers who fly economy class. Alaska Airlines and American Airlines join Delta in having above-average on-time arrivals of 80.7% and 77%, respectively, based on data taken from April 2023. (Overall, these are the best and worst airlines for getting you to your destination on time.)
Alaska, Southwest, and Allegiant have the fewest cancellations at between 0.9% and 1.3% of their flights, while Spirit and JetBlue have the highest percentage – 2.9% and 3.6%, respectively. (Data for AirCanada and WestJet wasn’t available.)
Chances are very good that your checked luggage will arrive at your destination undamaged and uncompromised regardless of which carrier you choose. There’s less than a 1% chance of mishandled checked baggage. But if you must know, American Airlines has the highest rate of mishandled bags – those reported as lost, damaged, delayed, and pilfered – at 0.75%.
The chances of being denied boarding because the airline oversold tickets are also very low, although it’s super annoying when it does happen. On average, these airlines deny boarding because of overselling at a rate of 0.29 tickets per 10,000 tickets. But Frontier Airlines is an outlier, with a boarding denial rate of 3.7 per 10,000.
To find America’s best airline, 24/7 Tempo reviewed J.D. Power’s 2023 North America Airline Satisfaction Study. The study measures performance and customer satisfaction by class of cabin – first/business, premium economy, and economy – based on eight factors: reservation, check-in, boarding, baggage, aircraft, flight crew, in-flight services, and costs and fees. The result is a customer satisfaction index ranking/1,000 possible points. For our list below, airlines were ranked here based on their score in the economy/basic economy segment.
Information on the percentage of reported flights arriving on time came from the June Air Travel Consumer Report, published by the U.S. Office of Aviation Consumer Protection, which has data on flight delays, cancellations, and mishandled luggage for April 2023. Data for the two Canadian-based carriers on our list was not available from the OACP.