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The Best and Not-so-best Airlines to Fly With

Only one man holds the knowledge of the best and not-so-best airlines to fly with this year. And that man would be Brent Bowen, from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, who publishes the Airline Quality Ratings (AQR). Since 1993 Bowen has been using data which has been disclosed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) about domestic airlines which operate in the US (and may have operations abroad). And this is the data which he uses to rank the airlines. The DOT releases data on criterion such as on-time departures, lost luggage, number of complaints and ticket over sales.

Wouldn’t you want to know the top 3 picks to travel on and the bottom three to avoid at all costs? Read on to find out more.

The Top Three Picks

Delta Airlines

According to the preliminary data supplied by DOT, Delta appears to be at the first spot, solely based on the first 6 months of 2018.  According to the stats, Delta only denied-boarding or bumped off 13 passengers in the first 3 months of the year, and that’s the lowest number among all the airlines. The airline also has the best ratings in terms of being on-time, 87.9% of the times. It must be noted that most airline mergers show lowered performance in a quarter, but Delta is way beyond that time period, since its 2008 merger with Northwest Airlines. This is one airline which really stepped up its game and turned it’s performance around.

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines would be a prime merger victim when it merged with Virgin America in April of 2018. And although it won the top stop for the year 2018, it’s performance in some crucial metrics have fallen as noted in the AQR. When compared with it’s performance in 2016 with the present numbers, on-time arrival performance fell from 87.3% to 82.6%, manhandled baggage per 1,000 passengers rose from 1.64 to 1.81, as did the number of passenger complaints from 0.50 per 100,000 passengers to 0.57. Mind you, Alaska Airways is still one of the top contenders when compared to the other domestic carriers.

JetBlue Airways

This airline’s numbers are solid, just not as consistent as Alaska’s or Delta’s. JetBlue seems to have performed very well in some areas and has slipping down in others. With on-time performance, it fell to 71.4% from 75% in 2016, while customer complaints increased to 1.14 complaints/100,000 passengers from 0.75% in 2016. The downfall for JetBlue lies in it’s on-time performance with as few as 67.6% of their flights reaching on time in April, the lowest among any carrier!

The Bottom Three Picks

Spirit Airlines

The number of customer complaints and on-time numbers of Spirit Airlines ensured that they would be at the bottom of the list. Although its customer complaint numbers actually fell since 2016 (from 6.74 complaints/100,000 passengers to 5.59 in 2017), it’s still pretty bad as compared to the other airlines. This trend is likely to continue, if we believe Bowen. Although their fares may be the cheapest, it does not always mean good service.

Frontier Airlines

Frontier suffers from the Spirit Airlines model, according to Bowen, as passengers really don’t get what they want. Although it’s on-time performance rose from 76% in 2016 to 78.3%. It also de-boarded 410 passengers (which is 0.66 passengers per 10,000) between January and March of this year. Number of passenger complaints also increased. Not exactly good numbers here with this one.


This rather unknown airline is a regional carrier, which operates small aircrafts for Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines. If you have ever taken a regional flight, which operates, out of smaller airports, then you will be familiar with ExpressJet. The problem is that people don’t often know what airlines they are flying with (to know for sure, check your ticket, it might read ‘Operated by ExpressJet’ in very small letters). If that is the case, this is a very good time to tell you that they face high bumping rates and lost luggage rates too. In 2017, its mishandled baggage numbers were at 3.88 per 1,000 passengers, which is huge when compared to the industry average of 2.46 bags per 1,000 passengers. These challenges are predicted to plague the airline in the future too and the passengers are not happy.

If you were to decide which airline to buy tickets from, solely on the basis of this list, you would be wise. More often than not, people end up buying the cheapest tickets that they find, only to regret their choice later. This is assuming that you get to choose which airline you fly with.

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