Travel
    Next Score View the next score

    Surveys say . . . Alaska and Southwest are best US airlines, Spirit remains the worst

    Interior of the first-class cabin of Alaska Airlines
    Embry Rucker
    Interior of the first-class cabin of Alaska Airlines

    Which airline should you fly?

    The answer depends on whom you ask or, more importantly, which studies you read. Since March, six different organizations using individual methodologies have released surveys ranking US airlines, best to worst.

    In other words, there’s no one answer to the question.

    Advertisement

    For those of you with limited patience, allow me to give you the abridged version of all six surveys. Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines were winners in nearly all cases. Virgin America, which had previously ranked high in consumer surveys, was purchased by Alaska Airlines in 2016.

    Get The Weekender in your inbox:
    The Globe's top picks for what to see and do each weekend, in Boston and beyond.
    Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

    If you’re at all familiar with domestic carriers you don’t need a crystal ball to predict that trusty Spirit Airlines, despite some improvement over an abysmal 2016, scraped along the bottom of almost every best-to-worst ranking.

    Will all of these studies have any impact on which airlines Americans decide to fly? Probably not. Affordability remains the most import criteria when passengers book travel, followed by scheduling, reliability, and seat comfort. That’s according to yet another survey by the trade group Airlines for America. But now we’re getting off track. Here are the winning and losing US airlines.

    Wallet Hub

    Top: Alaska Airlines

    Bottom: Spirit Airlines

    Wallet Hub, a company that offers credit scores, released a wide-ranging survey last week looking at factors including reliability, comfort, delays, legroom, and price. It ranked Alaska Airlines as best overall, followed by Delta Air Lines. JetBlue scored tops for in-flight experience based on legroom and free Wi-Fi. Southwest was the least complained about airline. Spirit ranked as the cheapest airline, but it also placed lowest in overall customer satisfaction.

    The Points Guy

    Top: Alaska Airlines

    Bottom: Hawaiian Airlines

    The Points Guy, a website that specializes in air travel, frequent flyer miles, and points, analyzed airlines in 10 categories such as mishandled luggage, on-time arrival, airport lounges, frequent flyer programs, and cabin comfort. The Points Guy put Alaska on top for a second year in a row. Southwest was runner-up, followed by Delta. Spirit avoided the bottom spot. That honor went to Hawaiian Airlines.

    Airline Quality Rating

    Top: Alaska Airlines

    Bottom: Spirit

    Advertisement

    Airline Quality Rating is the granddaddy of airline surveys. Since 1991 academics from the W. Frank Barton School of Business at Wichita State University and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University have crunched performance numbers from the US Department of Transportation in categories such as mishandled luggage, involuntary denied boardings, customer complaints, and on-time performance. Alaska topped the list, with Delta trailing closely behind. Perpetually poor-performing Frontier and Spirit came in last. Researchers found that airline performance was higher in 2017 than any other year in the history of the study.

    TripAdvisor

    Top: Southwest Airlines

    The TripAdvisor 2018 Traveler’s Choice Awards ranked top performing airlines based off of customer reviews rather than offering up a best-to-worst list. That means Spirit Airlines was free from ridicule in this study. Findings were based on the quantity and quality of airline reviews and ratings submitted by travelers. Southwest was ranked the top airline in North America, followed by Alaska, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, and WestJet. JetBlue’s Mint was ranked best business class, and Southwest topped the list for economy class.

    Temkin Group

    Top: Southwest Airlines

    Bottom: Spirit Airlines

    Based on a survey of 10,000 consumers, the Temkin Group found that Southwest scored 76 out of 100 percent with passengers. Alaska and JetBlue rounded out the top three. At the bottom were American Airlines, ExpressJet, and Spirit. A score of 45 out of 100 gave Spirit an official rating of “poor.” Massachusetts-based Temkin Group derived its findings from customer experience rather than specific categories such as mishandled baggage or on-time performance.

    Consumer Reports

    Top: Southwest Airlines

    Bottom: Spirit Airlines

    Consumer Reports asked 55,000 of its members to rank airline experiences in 12 categories, such as legroom, cleanliness, service by airline staff, Wi-Fi connectivity, and pricing transparency. Southwest was the only airline to earn top marks for pricing transparency thanks to clearly listed fees and a policy that allows passengers to check two bags for free. Alaska Airlines, JetBlue, and Hawaiian Airlines rounded out the list of highest rated airlines for economy flights. While all airlines received low scores for seat comfort and legroom, Spirit scored lowest of all, landing it in the bottom of yet again.

    Christopher Muther can be reached at muther@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Muther and on Instagram @Chris_Muther.