What Is The Best US Airline? Virgin America Apparently (According to Consumer Reports)

May 23, 2013

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Yesterday USA Today’s Nancy Trejos (who has been on a roll breaking travel stories) covered Consumer Reports’ annual airline satisfaction survey and to be honest, I wasn’t really surprised with the results given the poll questions. Voters were asked to rate their satisfaction with the airlines’: check-in ease, cabin-crew service, cabin cleanliness, seating comfort, baggage handling, and in-flight entertainment.

The results were as follows:

1. Virgin America, 89

2. Southwest Airlines, 85

3. JetBlue Airways, 85

4. Hawaiian Airlines, 82

5. Alaska Airlines, 81

6. Frontier Airlines, 78

7. Delta Air Lines, 71

8. US Airways, 66

9. American Airlines, 66

10. United Airlines, 63

11. Spirit Airlines, 50

My Thoughts
I still haven’t flown Virgin America because the opportunity cost for me, as a top-tier flyer with American, Delta and United, is just too high. I’d have to forego complimentary first/business class upgrades (Virgin America only allows their elites access to premium coach seats) and earning frequent flyer miles in my preferred accounts (Virgin Elevate points are okay, but not great for premium travel). As a travel enthusiast I want to try them out to see what all the fuss is about, but I’ll do it when I need to do a short hop on the west coast so the opportunity cost is minimized.

Virgin America took the top prize for good in-flight entertainment, seats and overall comfort
Virgin America took the top prize for good in-flight entertainment, seats and overall comfort

As for Spirit, I’m not surprised at all. Not only do they have a horrible frequent flyer program with a consumer-unfriendly mileage expiration policy that expires miles when an account becomes inactive for a period of 3 months or more (most airlines allow at least 12-18 months), but they nickel and dime their passengers on ancillary fees, carry-on luggage, online booking fees and soft drinks on board. However with all of the customer horror stories of lost luggage, nasty employees and gotcha fees, Spirit continues to operate as a profitable carrier, with 2013 results so far beating analysts expectations. Why would consumers choose the “worst” airline? Because they beat out other competitors on price and serve airports not focused on by other airlines. So clearly consumers choose airlines based on price, so why would Consumer Reports not include price as part of their survey?

I think many people would argue that the best airline is the one that gets them from point A to point B safely, cheaply and in a timely manner. Especially on shorter flights, who cares about in-flight entertainment? I personally never use in-flight entertainment since I always bring my own laptop/iPad/book/iPhone with my own Bose headphones. Even when I think an airline offers inflight entertainment, there’s no guarantee the system will work or provide actual entertainment (try finding a good movie to watch on Air Europa!).

To boldly name the “Best Airlines,” I’d also think you’d want to take into account fees, frequent flyer program, on-time performance and of course fares. But I understand that polls need to be kept to a minimum amount of questions and I do think overall the survey captures a generic snapshot of US airlines.

What are your thoughts on the survey?

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