Airlines have had their fair share of headlines this year. For the third year in a row, we surveyed travelers to gauge how they feel about the airline industry. We’ll be releasing the results in three thematic installments: airline performance, ticket pricing strategies, and the flying experience.

First up, airline performance. We surveyed more than 1,500 travelers and asked them to rank U.S. airlines based on how economical they are (or aren’t), safety, comfort, their loyalty program, and best airline overall. Below are the results.* (To see last year’s Annual Survey results, click here.)

Most Economical Airline: Southwest Airlines

First Runner-up: JetBlue

Second Runner-up: American Airlines

With basic economy fares and checked baggage fees now being the norm, Southwest Airlines stands out with budget-friendly policies like no-fee ticket changes and allowing a few free checked bags. It is interesting to see that neither Spirit, Allegiant, nor Frontier despite being labeled as ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCC) did not make the top three in this category. This shows that lower base fares might not be as appealing to travelers because ancillary fees (like rebooking and baggage costs) often negate any potential savings. 

Safest Airline: Delta Airlines

First Runner-up: Southwest Airlines

Second Runner-up: American Airlines

Of the 10 airlines ranked, Delta, Southwest and American Airlines have topped this year’s list respectively. Regardless of Southwest’s engine failure last April causing injuries and a fatality, they came in second.

It might be surprising to see that Delta came in first despite having one of the oldest fleets of any U.S. airline – with an average age of around 17 years. However, Delta has shown that there’s not necessarily any correlation between safety and age of aircraft.

Most Comfortable Airline: Delta Airlines

First Runner-up: JetBlue

Second Runner-up: Southwest Airlines 

Comfort is almost always a top priority for most travelers. Especially for long-haul flights, avid travelers will not sacrifice comfort over a lower airfare deal. We surveyed our subscribers and found that Delta is perceived to be the most comfortable airline even if JetBlue is known to offer more inches of legroom.

Most Rewarding Frequent Flier Program: Southwest Airlines

First Runner-up: Delta Airlines

Second Runner-up: American Airlines

Frequent Flier Programs have become successful in keeping consumers loyal to an airline. Southwest has also topped this year’s list of most rewarding Frequent Flier Program. Its Rapid Rewards Program best serves budget-minded travelers who primarily fly around the United States and some neighboring countries like Mexico. Some of its best features are no blackout dates, ability to redeem miles on all Southwest flights and no point expiration. 

Best Airline Overall: Southwest Airlines

First Runner-up: Delta Airlines

Second Runner-up: American Airlines 

Regardless of its recent woes, it is difficult to vote against Southwest as the best airline overall.

“The airline regularly tops consumer rankings and its flyers are definitely a loyal bunch. It’s unlikely they’ll be deterred by this one incident” says Tracy Stewart our Senior Editor of Airfarewatchdog. 

If any one airline has taken a beating this year, it is definitely United. The consecutive incidents in the last couple of months are harder for travelers to forgive.

Did your favorite airline make the cut? Let us know in the comments.

*Full rankings can be found here

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