- Cost isn’t all that matters when picking what company to fly with
- Choosing the wrong airline has the potential to take even more from us
- This report examines overlooked aspects of air travel to help consumers make more-informed decisions
Airfare costs dropped sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic, but they are starting to rise again as travel picks up, with the average leisure fare at $187 as of March 15. But cost isn’t all that matters when picking what company to fly with; choosing the wrong airline has the potential to take even more from us. For instance, 6 animals died during air transportation in 2020, and four major U.S. airlines had at least one pet fatality.
While critical to consider, such factors often fly under the radar due to our focus on price. But finding the cheapest airfare is now quite easy for anyone with an internet connection, so this report examines those other, overlooked aspects of air travel to help consumers make more-informed decisions.
Industry experts compared the 9 largest U.S. airlines, plus two regional carriers, across 17 important metrics. They range from cancellation and delay rates to baggage mishaps and in-flight comfort. The analysts also considered costs in relation to in-flight amenities for the sake of fairness. For example, it wouldn’t be right to penalize an airline that charges for drinks if its tickets are far cheaper than those from an airline with free in-flight refreshments.
2021’s Best Airlines
|Best Airline Overall||Alaska Airlines|
|Cheapest Airline||Spirit Airlines|
|Most Reliable Airline||Southwest Airlines|
|Most Comfortable Airline||JetBlue Airways|
|Best Airline for Pets||Alaska Airlines, SkyWest Airlines and Envoy Air|
|Least Complained-About Airline||Envoy Air|
|Safest Airline||Alaska Airlines|
Most Reliable Airline: Southwest Airlines has the lowest rate of cancelations, delays, mishandled luggage and denied boardings.
Most Comfortable Airline: JetBlue leads the pack in terms of in-flight experience, offering free amenities such as Wi-Fi, extra legroom, and complimentary snacks and beverages.
Cheapest Airline: Spirit is the best airlines for budget flyers.
Most Pet-Friendly: Three airlines tied for being most pet-friendly, Alaska Airlines, Envoy Air and SkyWest, with no incidents.
Most Satisfactory Airline: Envoy Air had the industry’s lowest consumer-complaint rate in 2020.
Safest Airline: Alaska Airlines was the safest in 2020. The safety runner-up is Envoy Air.
The tables below illustrate the number of points that each airline received.
National Airline Scores
|Metric||Max Score||American Airlines||Delta Air Lines||Southwest Airlines||United Airlines||JetBlue Airways||Frontier Airlines||Hawaiian Airlines||Alaska Airlines||Spirit Airlines|
|Mishandled Baggage Reports||7.00||2.37||4.53||4.39||4.05||5.17||5.40||4.66||3.43||5.46|
|Animal Related Incidents||5.00||3.66||1.72||N/A||1.95||N/A||N/A||0.00||5.00||N/A|
|Aviation Incidents & Accidents||6.00||3.23||3.23||4.08||0.91||3.78||0.00||3.02||3.80||3.92|
|Fatal Injuries in Aviation Accidents||6.00||6.00||6.00||0.00||6.00||6.00||6.00||6.00||6.00||6.00|
|Injuries in Aviation Incidents & Accidents||6.00||0.00||0.60||0.00||0.00||0.60||0.75||0.75||0.75||0.75|
|Blocked Middle Seats Policy||4.00||0.00||4.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||0.00||2.00||0.00|
|Face Masks Availability||4.00||4.00||4.00||4.00||4.00||0.00||0.00||4.00||4.00||0.00|
Regional Airline Scores
|Metric||Max Score||SkyWest Airlines||Envoy Air|
|Mainly Serves||N/A||American, Delta, Alaska and United||American|
|Mishandled Baggage Reports||7.00||2.70||0.26|
|Animal Related Incidents||5.00||5.00||5.00|
|Entertainment Options (2)||1.00||0.00||1.00|
|Wi-Fi Availability (2)||1.00||0.50||0.50|
|Complimentary Refreshments (2)||1.00||1.00||1.00|
|Aviation Incidents & Accidents||6.00||4.68||3.89|
|Fatal Injuries in Aviation Accidents||6.00||6.00||6.00|
|Injuries in Aviation Incidents & Accidents||6.00||0.75||0.75|
|Blocked Middle Seats Policy||4.00||2.00||0.00|
|Face Masks Availability||4.00||2.00||4.00|