The 3 Best and 3 Worst Airlines in the U.S.

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The 3 Best and 3 Worst Airlines in the U.S.
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Last year was a rough one for the airline industry. What should have been a cause for celebration — travelers returning to the skies in droves as the COVD-19 pandemic faded — often became an exercise in frustration for both airlines and their passengers.

Staffing shortages and other factors such as a spate of extreme weather events led to delays and cancellations that left many customers fuming.

So which airlines soared above the troubles and which carriers barely got off the ground?

The Wall Street Journal’s 15th annual airline scorecard created rankings based on seven categories of data:

  • On-time arrivals
  • Canceled flights
  • Extreme delays
  • Two-hour tarmac delays
  • Mishandled baggage
  • Involuntary bumping
  • Complaints

Based this criteria, here are the three best airlines … followed by the three worst.

1. Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines
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Delta Air Lines finished atop the WSJ rankings for the second year in a row. It’s the fifth time they’ve taken the No. 1 spot in the past six years.

The airline had an on-time arrival rate of 81.7%, which was better than all other airlines. Delta also had the best record in the canceled flights and involuntary bumping categories.

Delta finished second in the extreme delays, two-hour tarmac delays and complaints categories.

Despite locking up the No. 1 overall position, Ed Bastian — Delta’s chief executive — acknowledged in an earnings call that the chaos of 2022 made it “the most difficult operational year in our history.”

2. Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines
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Alaska Airlines finished in second place for the second year in a row.

The WSJ notes that although Delta had the lowest cancellation rate in the survey, Alaska Airlines would have earned that honor if not for late-December storms that affected the Pacific Northwest.

Alaska finished first in the extreme delays category, meaning its customers were subject to fewer long delays than travelers flying on other carriers. In addition to finishing second in the canceled flights category, it also was runner-up in the on-time arrivals category.

3. Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines
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Despite a horrific run of canceled flights in the days after Christmas, Southwest Airlines managed to take third place in the rankings.

How did the airline do it? By having “relatively low rates of complaints, lengthy tarmac delays and mishandled bags,” according to the WSJ. However, the WSJ adds that baggage handling and complaint data for December 2022 won’t be available for a few months. That data will be factor into next year’s rankings.

Southwest had the best record (No. 1) in the two-hour tarmac delays and complaints categories.

The worst airlines

Unhappy traveler on plane
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It was a bad year for the airline industry all around. As the WSJ notes, major U.S. carriers recorded 69% more cancellations in 2022 compared with the previous year, despite a mere 13% increase in scheduled flights.

The following three airlines had a particularly rough year, finishing at the bottom of the WSJ rankings.

7. Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines
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Spirit Airlines finished next-to-last in terms of complaints, meaning they nearly had the most, and finished sixth in four categories:

  • Canceled flights
  • Extreme delays
  • Two-hour tarmac delays
  • Involuntary bumping

8. Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines
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Frontier Airlines finished dead last with the worst record in two categories — involuntary bumping and complaints. It also finished next-to-last in the extreme delays category.

9. JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airlines
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JetBlue Airways finished in the cellar of the WSJ rankings. The newspaper reports that JetBlue “posted relatively poor numbers in every category.”

In fact, JetBlue finished last in the extreme delays and two-hour tarmac delays categories and eighth in on-time arrivals and canceled flights.

Joanna Geraghty, JetBlue president, told the WSJ that the airline is working to improve its performance and will make a concerted effort to limit cancellations going forward:

“We are largely a leisure carrier, and we know customers want to get where they booked their [vacation] flight for. So that’s where we double down.”