Alaska Airlines takes the top spot in the Points Guy survey of major US carriers

Flying is an emotional experience. Travelers can bond - and break up - with an airline before the first beverage cart rolls down the aisle. Which is why the Points Guy relied on unfeeling numbers, not capricious hearts, to calculate the Best and Worst U.S. Airlines in 2018. 

"We used data," not passengers' opinions, said Brian Kelly, the founder and chief executive officer of the Points Guy, a travel news and consumer-advice site. "But I was shocked that JetBlue scored so low."  

See, you cannot strip all the sentiment from an air travel study.  

In the website's second annual survey, JetBlue took the penultimate spot - eight places behind the champion, Alaska Airlines, and one above last place finisher Hawaiian Airlines. Yes, Kelly is bewildered by Hawaiian's low placement, too.  

"The last is not the worst," he said as a consolation.  

Hawaiian Airlines is not awful, he explained, but its higher fares and limited route network dragged down the airline like a coconut attached to the tail of a parrotfish. JetBlue, which earned high marks for cabin comfort and in-flight entertainment, dropped four places because of flight delays and low customer satisfaction, among other factors.  

"It didn't excel in any one category," he said.  

The study is based on 2017 facts and figures supplied by the On-Time Airline & Airport Rankings, the Transportation Department's Bureau of Transportation Statistics and Routehappy. The Points Guy, a savant of mileage plans, handled the airlines' frequent-flier programs. The team filed the findings under four categories: price (specifically, airfare and baggage and change fees), convenience (route network, on-time arrivals and cabin comfort), headaches (customer satisfaction, lost luggage and involuntary bumps) and extras (frequent flier programs and lounges). Price carried the most weight, with 25 percent of the total tally; route network accounted for 15 percent. The remaining components ranged from 2 percent to 10 percent.  

"We were thinking about consumers," he said of the categories. "The fliers come first."  

Kelly was not surprised Alaska held onto its crown for another year. "The airline continues to be a favorite of its customers, and ranked in the top 3 across half of our criteria - airfare, on-time arrivals, baggage handling, customer satisfaction and its best-in-the-industry frequent flyer program," the report stated. He was, however, stunned by some of the other results. For one, United.  

After a year of ghastly customer service, including the video-seen-around-the-web of security forces dragging a Louisville, Kentucky doctor off an overbooked flight, the legacy carrier fell only two spots, to fourth. Kelly said the airline redeemed itself by reducing involuntary bumps and lowering the number of passenger complaints by 17 percent.  

Another shocker: Spirit's rise to seventh place from rock bottom. (Last year, the site featured 10 airlines; for 2018, it listed nine, due to Alaska's purchase of Virgin America.) He said the budget carrier scored well on lost baggage, on-time arrivals and, of course, ridiculously low fares.  

"They deliver cheap tickets to people who want cheap tickets," he said.  

However, penny-pinching Spirit could not touch bounteous Southwest that occupied second place. The carrier scored big with its modest ticket prices, expanding route map and generous policies, including two free checked bags and no change fees.  

For next year's survey, Kelly said they might tweak some of the percentage weights and show how close the airlines ranked, so travelers better understand the tight race. This year, for example, Alaska was less than one point ahead of Southwest, and Delta and United were separated by only a few tenths of a point.  

"Maybe we won't call it the best and the worst," he said. "We will call it a ranking and see how the airlines can improve."  

The Points Guy is also considering a survey of transatlantic flights. Kelly said he plans to start collecting the indifferent data soon.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Travel

For Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, a royal wedding. For the rest of us: royal tours

With the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle mere weeks away — and the recent news that the couple will have a carriage procession around Windsor Town after their nuptials at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle — hotels and tour companies are trotting out packages for royal watchers.  In Britain, it’s easy to create...
Ready to explore a cave? Here are some suggestions

ST. LOUIS — Missouri is honeycombed with more than 7,300 documented caves — nationally second only to Tennessee — that are deep and long enough to warrant exploration. Explorers find more every year. And who knows how many private land owners are secretly sitting on caves in order to avoid traffic, trespassing and liability, experts...
A gamble on a revitalized Reno, Nevada

Midway through his 1940 Western classic "The Ox-Bow Incident," author Walter Van Tilburg Clark paints the barren Nevada landscape that is the backdrop to a lynch-mob killing.  He writes plaintively of snowy peaks, even in the summer months, of dried creekbeds, meadows bedecked in purple and golden wildflowers, violets "as big as...
Are you allowed to take pictures on planes? Yes and no.

On a recent American Airlines flight from Santiago, Chile, to Dallas, Natalie Root had a front-row seat for an unpleasant confrontation.  The aircraft she boarded happened to be a new Boeing Dreamliner, and her friend, an aviation buff, wanted to snap a few pictures of the plane's interior as it taxied down the runway. Big mistake.  ...
A restaurant that marries Seattle ingredients to Southern cuisine

Who would have guessed that the hottest new Southern restaurant in the country is in a quiet residential neighborhood in Seattle? Or that it would score a James Beard award nomination for best new restaurant and that its fried chicken would sell out by 6 p.m. on Sundays?  The location is the first of many surprises at JuneBaby, the second restaurant...
More Stories