Sky’s the Limit: The Best & Worst Airlines Ranked in 2023

As the airline industry continues to recover from the pandemic and travel ramps up, choosing the right airline for the journey has become more important than ever. Whether you’re looking for safety, comfort or affordability, the right airline makes a massive difference in travel experience. The personal finance website WalletHub announced its annual list of the best U.S. airlines to solve this problem. 

Along with comparing the nine largest national airlines in the U.S., WalletHub took the liberty of ranking the most reliable, comfortable, affordable, safest and pet-friendly airline.

The list created by WalletHub collected and analyzed flight data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, using a strategic methodology comparing 14 critical metrics ranging from cancellation and delay rates to baggage mishaps and in-flight comfort. Costs related to in-flight amenities are also included in the analysis.

“WalletHub’s analysis is a comprehensive one, based on a methodology and metrics selected by our analysts along with academic experts. Our goal was to go beyond price comparison tools and identify the best airlines in terms of overall service quality and functional performance,” says Wallethub analyst Jill Gonzalez. “While price is of course essential, finding the most affordable airline is extremely easy. WalletHub’s report goes a step further and examines other aspects of flying that sometimes go overlooked, to help consumers make more informed decisions.” 

Topping the list for the second year in a row, Delta Air Lines scored 66.79 out of 100. 

“Some of the main factors that contributed to Delta being the winner include the lack of denied boardings in the past year, the lack of animal-related incidents and the fact that it has no fatal injuries in aviation accidents,” says Gonzalez. “The availability of legroom, entertainment options and complimentary refreshments added to the airline topping the list.”

Spirit Airlines finished in second on the list with 66.57, just behind Delta. 

“Although it’s the most affordable, we weren’t expecting Spirit Airlines to do so well,” says Gonzalez. “However, the small number of mishandled baggage reports and high safety ranking were the key factors that contributed to the airline being second best overall.”

Coming in last for the second year in a row with a final score of 23.39, Southwest Airlines, most notable for making headlines during the holiday chaos episode, resulted in 16,700 flight cancellations.

“Southwest had the second largest share of canceled flights,” says Gonzalez. “It also ranked low in terms of safety since it registered at least one fatal injury in aviation accidents over the past five years, and more than 50 injuries sustained by passengers and/or aircraft personnel that required medical care over the same time period.”

In the subcategories, Delta Air Lines is the most reliable airline due to the lowest rates of cancellations, delays, mishandled luggage and denied boardings. On the other end of the spectrum, Frontier Airlines was named the least reliable. 

“Delta is the most reliable airline mostly because it didn’t have any denied boardings over the past year. It also had the second lowest share of delayed flights, just 11.5%,” says Gonzalez. “At the opposite end, Frontier had the most denied boardings and the second largest share of delayed flights, over 23%.”

JetBlue was deemed the most comfortable airline because of the in-flight experience, offering free amenities, such as Wi-Fi, extra legroom and complimentary refreshments. Frontier yet again finished bottom of the pack as the least comfortable airline. 

“JetBlue is the most comfortable airline because all its flights provide at least 30 inches of legroom in economy class or coach seats, and it has entertainment options available. Plus, it provides free wi-fi on most of its flights, as well as free food and drinks on all domestic flights over two hours,” says Gonzalez. “By comparison, none of these in-flight perks are provided by Frontier, which is why it had no points on the chart.”

For anyone flying on a budget, Spirit Airlines is the most affordable airline and Envoy Air, a regional carrier for American Airlines, is the most expensive. 

“In terms of affordability, the ranking is pretty straightforward. Spirit had the lowest prices, while Envoy had the highest,” says Gonzalez. “To be able to make a fair comparison, we calculated passenger revenue divided by available seat miles for each airline. The lower the value, the higher the airline ranked.”

Travelers who want to bring their pets along have a choice of three airlines that all had no incidents with furry friends: Delta Air Lines, Alaska Airlines and SkyWest. Hawaiian Airlines is ranked the least pet-friendly airline because of animal losses, injuries and deaths.

Finally, the safest airline to fly with is Envoy Air, and the least safe to fly with is Southwest. 

Read the full report here.

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