When booking an airline ticket, you’ll have to choose between several airlines. How do you decide? Maybe you always fly with one airline because you have status with them, or you have their co-brand credit card and get a free bag and preferred boarding. Whatever the reason, you have one.
For me, it’s a little more complicated. I have co-brand credit cards from every airline we regularly use. I have no status with any airline, and I’m not looking to achieve any status level, either. I pick an airline based on a combination of the flight experience, price, and schedule. We also have to consider the likelihood that we’ll have a major schedule meltdown during our trip. That means I’m looking for the lowest price, but I’m willing to pay more for an airline that I’d prefer to fly. Schedule and cost are set, so the only variable I have to set a value for in the equation is which airline we like to fly on the most.
No airline is immune to strandings due to weather, staffing, or other reasons, but some airlines are more prone to it than others.
Please understand that these ratings are mine alone (with some serious input from Sharon since I’m not a stupid husband) (Note from Sharon: Yup. Happy wife = happy life!). Your situation and rankings might be opposite from mine (ours). That’s OK because, like many things, Your Mileage May Vary.
1. Delta (Unchanged for 2024)
Delta is still our favorite airline. They tend to do all of the important things right. Their flights are usually on time. The onboard product is consistent throughout their fleet, offering Wi-Fi on almost all of their planes and still offering IFE, unlike other airlines that tell passengers to use their own devices. On average, Delta’s employees seem to enjoy their jobs, or at least they act as if they do.
The big advantage of flying on Delta is that their primary hub, located in Atlanta, is very close to Orlando. While we can find some non-stop flights on Delta (like to New York, Los Angeles and Minneapolis), most of our other flights will require a connection. Because Delta has so many flights in and out of Atlanta, even if there’s a problem (like a weather delay, mechanical issue, or a missed connection), there’s usually a different way we can get to our destination. Delta just flat out runs a good airline, at least in our eyes.
Delta was the airline we flew the most in 2023, and our flights were uneventful. Our experience gave us no reason to drop Delta from the top spot.
2. JetBlue (Unchanged)
JetBlue keeps its #2 spot in our ranking this year.
It helps that JetBlue now flies from the brand new Terminal C in Orlando but now that the airline seems to be over most of the operational chaos of the pandemic, our recent flights have been great.
JetBlue tries to do things that make the onboard experience pleasant. You get free Wi-Fi at every seat on all of their planes. They’re also upgrading all their older planes to have up-to-date media screens with DIRECTV and SiriusXM radio.
3. Alaska (Unchanged)
I want to fly with Alaska more. I feel if we did, they’d rank even higher. In 2020, we took our second flight with them in as many years, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the airline. Alaska is based in the Northwestern US, and they only fly to Portland, Seattle, San Fransisco and San Diego from Orlando. Many people who fly with Alaska tend to love their customer service, lounges, and loyalty program (and frequent flyers LIKING a loyalty program is rare). So while we don’t fly with Alaska often, I rank them at #3 because if we have the chance, I’m likely to fly with them over other airlines.
4. United (Up from #8)
This one hurts the most for me to write since, for years, I avoided flying with United. Once I got over my personal distaste for the airline due to management, I started booking flights on United when it made sense for our travels. On our three flights in 2023, I found United to be a decent airline. It’s not the best, but it’s not the worst either.
5. Southwest (Down from #4)
Southwest drops another place this year. It’s not because of the product offered, which is unchanged from previous years. The main reason is that the airline seems unwilling to address the issues with the one thing that sets them apart from other airlines.
The seating system of Southwest Airlines has reached a critical stage as passengers have found multiple ways to exploit the loopholes in the system and board the aircraft earlier than others. As a result, the situation has become so severe that passengers now have to pay additional fees for Early Bird or Preferred Boarding to secure a desirable seat on a Southwest plane. Despite the airline’s efforts to maintain a fair and equitable boarding process, the current situation has created a significant challenge for Southwest’s management team.
Their fares are no longer the lowest, so they need to compete on the product offered. Their Transfarency® policy sets them apart from the other airlines. Southwest planes don’t have IFE screens but offer free movies and live TV streaming over their Wi-Fi network onboard. Their Wi-Fi is also reasonably priced at $8 per day, which is great if you’re connecting flights.
6. American (Down from #5)
American drops to #6 place on the list, leapfrogged by United. Our only flights on American Airlines this year were part of a trip to Charlotte. We flew with them because it was the best non-stop option between the cities.
We’ve had bad experiences with AA’s employees (remember the “Your bag is too big for the overhead” incident Sharon experienced), but we’ve adjusted our expectations and how we pack before getting on one of their planes. I also find AA to have some of the most uncomfortable economy seats of all the major US airlines. Even if I was willing to pay more for a Main Cabin Extra seat, I’m not ready to fork over the prices they charge.
7. Spirit (Unchanged)
There are many things about Spirit that don’t match our flying preferences, but if you’re thinking about flying with them, here are some things you should know in advance before buying that ticket. Now that I’ve flown with Spirit in the Big Front Seat, I’m ranking them above Frontier.
8. Frontier (Down from #6)
We’ve flown on Frontier several times and the experience is satisfactory. You know, going in, it’s going to be a no-frills experience, and you get precisely that. Their seats don’t recline, and you don’t even get a functional tray table to work on.
While Frontier often advertises low rates, by the time you add in the things we would want to have when traveling, like a carry-on bag and possibly a checked bag, it adds $50 to the ticket price each way. Possibly more, now that they’re lowering their maximum baggage weight to 40 pounds.
I purchased the “The Works” package for one of our flights, which included our checked bag, a carry-on bag and seat assignment in Frontier’s stretch seat, which drastically improved the onboard experience, including giving loads of legroom and a full-size tray.
9. Allegiant (Unchanged)
Allegiant is last on the list for us. It’s just an airline we won’t fly on for many reasons, which I’ve spelled out in this post.
So that’s our list and the reason behind the rankings. I left out some airlines because they have a limited route network, like Hawaiian, Sun Country, and Silver Airways. This list is based on Sharon’s and my preferences. We value our vacation time and like to have uneventful travel as much as possible. A reliable airline with flight times that fit our needs is more important than finding the cheapest fare or earning credits for frequent flyer status. Your needs may be much different.
In 2023, our flight experiences have confirmed our opinions about our favorite airlines. We were surprised to discover that flying with United is not as bad as we had previously thought. However, Southwest has dropped a few places in our rankings due to the limitations of their boarding process and some people taking advantage of it. On the other hand, we’ve come to appreciate Spirit and are now more open to considering it as a viable option, which is a significant change from a few years ago.
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