Top Airlines in the U.S. for Your Vacation Travel

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Plane taking off from the runway in front of a colorful sky
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DISCLAIMER: Our posts may contain affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, you won’t pay a penny more, but we’ll get a small commission, which helps to keep the lights on. Thanks!

When it comes to travel, your experience can be easily disrupted by a bad airline encounter. For us, a recent family vacation went awry when a well-known budget airline couldn’t follow through on its commitment to transport some members of the family to our destination.

A quick post on a private social media page revealed similar frustrations, The experience convinced us to dig deeper into airline travel and take advantage of the extensive experience of others. The result is a ranking of domestic airlines based on our own informal survey as well as those of others.  Keep reading to find out top picks for U.S. travel based on extensive travel experience.

Best and Worst Airlines for U.S. Travel

  1. Southwest
  2. Alaska Airlines and Delta Airlines tied
  3. American Airlines
  4. Jet Blue
  5. United Airlines
  6. Travelers say AVOID: Frontier Airlines
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1.            Southwest Airlines

That heart you see on Southwest Airline’s website has some serious customer mojo behind it. Transfarency, with fully refundable flights, no change fees and a can-do attitude put Southwest at the top of travelers’ itineraries time and time again.

If you’re new to Southwest, you’ll be immediately impressed by the airline’s straightforward pricing. Just three simple fares, and all include a carry on and 2 checked bags.

For bargain basement travelers, it’s easy to find the lowest fare if your dates are flexible. Simply click on the low fare calendar, enter your airports and the month of travel, and voila! Southwest shows you the cheapest flights for each day of the month, making it easy to find and book the least expensive fare.

While Southwest is typically categorized as a low-cost carrier, ticket prices don’t always align to the industry classification. For instance, this summer, fares from Hartford, Connecticut to Portland, Oregon, an obviously popular travel route for Seconds to Go, were two to three times that of other carriers serving the same route. Some of the flights also imposed two stops, though most of these did not require a plane change.

However, if you book far enough in advance, Southwest usually does offer some of the best fares around (see below). Even better, if fares drop after you book, it’s simple to rebook and take advantage of the savings. Any leftover funds are refunded in the form of a voucher. However, since travel funds are only valid for travel that takes place within a year of the booking date (not travel date), it may not be worth the hassle of rebooking unless you travel frequently.

When booking your Southwest flight, don’t look for the option to select your seat assignment. Southwest employs an open seating system, meaning that you are free to choose any available seat on the plane. Want that window seat? It’s yours. Coveting the extended legroom of an exit row? Take it as long as someone else hasn’t secured it ahead of you.

At check in, you’ll be signed a boarding position on a first-come, first-served basis. Check-in begins exactly 24 hours before your flight time, and for best seating selection , you’ll want to check in the moment your window opens. If your flight is due to depart at 6:05 am on the 24th, you’ll need to be logged in to the Southwest website at 6:04 on the 23rd, with your confirmation number, ready to click check-in.

Southwest assigns boarding positions in three groups, A, B and C, based on the order of check in. If you receive an A position or early number B, you’ll have a good selection of aisle and window seats to choose from, though be advised, the front of the plane does fill up first.

If you are a later B or C, you may find yourself getting snug and comfy between two new friends in an middle seat. It may also be difficult to find seats together if you’re traveling with a group, though to be fair, you may easily run into any of these problems when selecting a seat during the booking process with another airline.

Of course, you can always purchase Early Bird check-in for an additional $25 one way. With Early Bird check-in, Southwest will automatically check you into the flight well before other travelers have the chance. Early Bird check in will usually place you in an A or early B boarding position. Be advised, however, that if your flight is cancelled for any reason after check in, rebooking to a new flight will nullify any previous boarding positions, often placing you at the back of the line. This is one of the drawbacks of a Southwest flight.

However, if you don’t mind spending the big bucks, opt for a Business Select fare. You’ll be guaranteed an A1-15 boarding position and a great selection of seats. Since these fares are usually significantly more expensive than base Wanna Get Away fares, there is usually room in this boarding group. That means, if your flight is cancelled, you’re more likely to retain a 1-15 boarding position. As another positive, you’ll also earn more airline reward miles on your Rapid Rewards account by selecting this fare.

If you’re a traveler who needs extra assistance when boarding the plane, you’ll find Southwest has one of the most liberal policies for preboarding in the industry. Travelers often joke that the airline is a miracle worker, given the number of pre-boards that leave their wheelchairs and walk onboard if its faster to do so. Another perk for passengers with preboard privileges is that family members get to board with them.

For the average traveler, this can become quite tiresome. While most people understand the need for people with disabilities to board the plane first, Southwest seems to have a broad definition of who needs this service. On a recent flight out of of Las Vegas, there were over 20 preboard passengers. About half were sitting in wheelchairs until the gate agent announced that the flight would be delayed due to the number of preboarding passengers who would need assistance down the aisle.

At this point, most got up and walked quite nimbly onto the plane. Others who were standing, and needed no assistance to board the plane, joined them on their walk down the gangway. Just keep in mind that preboards get first seat selection, so you’re A boarding position doesn’t always put you where you want to be if that seat is in the front of the plane.

Southwest does get top marks for customer service. Call center agents seem to be U.S.-based, speak understandable English and have always been quite friendly and helpful in our experience. The same holds true with gate agents in most cities as well as flight attendants, who aren’t afraid to bring a little entertainment to the flight.

While customer satisfaction has dipped this year across some rankings, due to the number of Max planes in the fleet, Travelers still rank Southwest above average thanks to the airline’s easy fare classes, outstanding customer service, and the fact that luggage is always included in even the lowest-priced ticket class.

Southwest Customer Satisfaction Rankings:

  • J.D. Power: # 1 in budget airlines (tied with
    Jet Blue)
  • Consumer Affairs: 3.5 out of 5
  • The Points Guy: #3

Airline Seat Details

Boeing 737

  • Average width: 17”
  • Average pitch: 31”

Boeing 738

  • Average width: 17”
  • Average pitch: 32-33”

Boeing 737 Max 8

  • Average width: 17.5”
  • Average pitch: 32-33”

Southwest Airline Pros

  • Simple fare classes and bookings
  • Open seating – choose your own seat (also a
    drawback for some)
  • Outstanding customer service
  • Luggage included in all fares
  • Free cancellations and changes
  • Snacks and drinks are included with all fare
    classes – longer flights net premium snacks
  • One of the cheapest wifi charges at $8 one way

Southwest Airline Cons

  • Open seating is confusing to some
  • No First-Class cabin
  • More and more routes with two stops per flight
  • If Southwest cancels your flight and you need to
    be rebooked, expect to lose your current boarding position and get booted to
    the back of the order. On the positive side, though, they will automatically
    refund any Early Bird purchase associated with the canceled flight.

Recent comments on social media from happy Southwest

Southwest is the best…I wish people would not consider them a “low cost airline” as that is not always the truth. But they do offer great customer service, treat their employees great and have great airplanes with very little fees.

Thank you #SouthwestAirlines for getting us to Philadelphia 20 minutes early 👏👏👏 Great airline✈️

My kind of @SouthwestAir flight: flight’s not full so the gate agent told us to spread out “if someone sits down next to you, ask them WHY?!” 😂

@SouthwestAir This is just another thing that makes you guys so awesome! My son’s flight home from a Phoenix baseball trip was delayed Sunday night, and the gate agent had some fun with ring toss! My son won a fancy new suitcase. Thank you! #southwestisbest #SouthwestAirlines

This moment made me happy!

— Emily Yutzy (@emilya884) September 14, 2019

Southwest social media on the downside

Them low-key shady airport passengers that “use” airline wheelchairs for early boarding. Then, you see them get off the same plane in Vegas and they’re ready to set it off for the next 5 days😔 #SouthwestAirlines ❤️SWA…not fake flyers🤣😂😆

5-6 gates in an area where most airlines have 2-3 gates is not ok!  It happens in @fly2midway  @BostonLogan @cleairportnews  and most #SouthwestAirlines terminals that aren’t hubs!  Make it better!!!

Thanks #SouthwestAirlines  but your app and all@boards at Midway still show on time departure at 9:55 pm@and it’s now 10:21 pm. I’d appreciate the data being updated!

pilots working in the cockpit of a commercial airliner, for one of the best airlines
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2. Alaska Airlines (tied with Delta)

Since Alaska Airlines swaps with Delta for first place across customer surveys, we’ve decided to place them in a tie, with Alaska slightly edging out Delta for more simplified fare classes.

You know an airline is expanding when it comes to Hartford, and we were excited to see what Alaska could do. The airline now operates several flights a day between Portland, Oregon and Hartford, a route not readily serviced by other airlines. This alone raised eyebrows. Could Alaska take on Southwest and win?

Oddly enough, the first flight we booked on Alaska Airlines was for a trip to Anchorage. With three fare classes, the booking process was nearly as transparent as Southwest’s. While baggage restrictions and a limited seating selection for base fares put it off the track immediately, the booking process was otherwise straightforward. They even allow you to preview open seats before choosing a flight, and if you’re a front-of-the plane person who must have an aisle seat, the advantages of this function can’t go understated.

Unfortunately, Alaska partners with American Airlines on many flights and seating visibility didn’t transfer to those travel segments. I had to select the flight and start the booking process before I could see an open seating schedule for flights that continue on American.

One positive perk when comparing Alaska to other major carriers is that all fare classes allow 1 carry on bag and a personal item. Likewise, all fares, including first class, exclude checked baggage which must be purchased separately.

Saver fares are the most economical as well as the most restrictive. Flight changes are not permitted after booking, and you should count on boarding last and sitting at the very back of the plane, usually the last 4 rows. On the up side, you do get to pick which seat you will occupy in the tail section, a perk that other major carriers don’t offer the extreme budget traveler.

Moving up to Main fares won’t cost you much more, only $30 in our test fare, but does offer a much broader seat selection. We found availability in rows 18-29 with the option to upgrade to rows closer to the front by booking a refundable ticket or paying a $119 premium class upcharge. Changes are also accommodated at this fare level, though you will likely be assessed a fee.

For those seeking a little extra comfort and priority boarding, First Class seats on Alaska were some of the cheapest we found for our test booking, coming in at only $550 over the Saver fare. At this rate, a First Class fare might be in the running for travelers looking to splurge a little on a one-way flight.

Alaska levies fees for some interesting services, however. Most travelers will not be impacted, but it might be important to note the following fees:

Reservation and Service Fees

  • If Made By Phone: $15 (free for MVP Gold or 75K members)
  • Requesting a Paper Itinerary: $5
  • Research Ticket Receipt: $20

Where in-flight service is concerned, we experienced a novel phenomenon. None of our three test passengers could recall much about the flight. Where air travel is concerned, no news is usually good news though, so we will chalk it up to average service.

If you feel you need more details before making a decision, customers leaving reviews with Trip Advisor rated Alaska’s customer service a 4.5 out of 5 and the onboard experience at 4 out of 5. Those were some of the best ratings across carriers.

Positive reviews are fairly common for Alaska, with the carrier taking top ranking in most surveys, or sliding just beneath Delta:

Alaska Airlines Customer Satisfaction Rankings:

  • J.D. Power: # 1
  • Consumer Affairs: rated 4.5 out of 5 by
  • The Points Guy: #2

Alaska Airline Seat Details

  • Alaska operates multiple aircraft types with varying seat sizes. Check out Seat Guru to search by flight number or body type.

Alaska Airline Pros

  • Carry on included with base fare
  • Simple fare classes and easy booking
  • Cushy seats
  • Seating chart visible when reviewing available flights

Alaska Airline Cons

  • Charge to check luggage
  • Inflight entertainment lacking on some planes

Recent comments on social media from happy Alaska Airlines customers:

Alaska airlines solid Midwest and west flights. Delta southern region and national overall still unmatched.

Alaska Airlines sets the standard for commercial carriers! @SkyWest has lost this simple concept. Thank you #alaskaairlines for showing how an airline should operate!

Impressed with how @AlaskaAir handles connections. 20 minutes to catch the next flight, Alaska asks all passengers to wait until all who are connecting disembark from the flight. Saw it happen twice during the trip. That’s how *Great* service should be. #alaskaairlines #alaska

NOTE: Southwest will do this as well, though passengers rarely listen and follow through.

NOTE: Southwest will do this as well, though passengers rarely listen and follow through.

Thank you Alaska airlines! I got bumped up to first class. Now I’ll be drinking champagne as I’m working on my #fiction #WIP

@AlaskaAir has the absolute best customer service!!!

Alaska Airlines on the downside

Literally EVERY single time I fly with them there’s some sort of issue because of lack of communication or their planes are just f****d up.

Flight attendant taking orders on a planefor one of the best airlines
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2.  Delta Airlines (Tied with Alaska)

Our experiences with Delta have always been positive, and in that, we are not alone. Sliding just beneath Southwest, Delta won the secondplace favorite from people in our informal social media survey.

The airline covers a wide range of small and large airports, so wherever you are going, they can probably get you there. The only thing that sets them back from achieving number one in our opinion is the issue of multiple fare classes, charges for bags, as well as an inflexible cancellation or flight change policy on most economically-priced fares.

On the positive side, Delta makes it easy to understand what you’re getting in each class. Just select the fare you want to book and a pop-up window opens to tell you what is included for the flight you’ve selected as well as the options available in the next class up.

Overall, Delta offers five fare classes on domestic flights. While the airline’s Basic fare does provide a generous carry on allowance (1 personal item and one carry on), you won’t get to select your seat. Instead, it will be assigned at check-in. If you’re traveling with a group and would like to sit together, or you just want to make sure you get an aisle or window, you’ll need to upgrade that Basic fare to a Main class fare.

Main class fares provide you with all of the amenites of a Basic fare with the option to select your seat from a limited number of open options. You’ll find that most of these reside at the back half of the plane. However, if you aren’t happy with the seat selection, you always have the choice to upgrade, for a fee, to one of the extra-charge positions on the plane. The prices are clearly displayed in the seat selection process. None of these upgraded options, however will move much further forward than just above the wing.

If seats at the front of the plane and earlier boarding will make or break your trip, you’ll want to opt for Delta Comfort class. You’ll also net up to three inches more legroom, though seat width remains the same, so expect to share those armrests with your companions. Delta Comfort class also offers a better variety of premium snack options and a free alcoholic beverage for flights over 250 miles.

In our sample price analysis, Comfort class also came in over $150 more than the base fare, so you will have to decide if it’s in your budget and worth the extra cost. First Class and Delta One fares upped the charge to more than 10 times the cost of a basic fare, adding amenities such as extra wide seats, more leg  room and expanded food and beverage choices, as well as priority boarding. All of the fares mentioned above require extra baggage fees if you want to check any luggage.

If you’re a frequent traveler and a member of Delta Skymiles, you might be able to use points for an upgrade to a higher seating class. For many flights, Delta offers you the option to book your fare using a combination of points and dollars, a pretty convenient option, or the chance to upgrade using points. Just make sure you are signed into your Skymiles account when booking your flight to view the available options.

Delta in-flight service has typically been positive as well, with flight attendants offering helpful service and the typical “hellos” and “goodbyes”. The airline does charge extra for a fully refundable or changeable flight, but many travelers report flexibility when it comes to mistakes or changes in life circumstances.

A woman in Connecticut was scheduled to fly to Nicaragua to visit a son who was serving a church mission. When the political climate turned uncertain, Delta cheerfully refunded her first class fares. Another man in Tennessee said Delta happily changed his mother’s flight a day before departure when the family realized they had booked her out of the wrong airport.

In our personal surveys, Delta received very high marks from our social media respondents. Here is what other, more formal surveys, had to report:

  • Consumer Affairs: rated 4.5 out of 5 by
  • J.D. Power: #2 behind Alaska Airlines
  • The Points Guy: #1

Airline Seat Details

  • Delta operates multiple aircraft types with
    varying seat sizes. Check out Seat
    to search by flight number or body type.

Delta Airline Pros

  • Carry on included with base fare
  • Flexibility on non-changeable fares reported due
    to unique situations
  • Combine frequent flier miles with dollars to
  • Many planes offer in-flight entertainment
  • 92.7% of planes arrive on time

Delta Airline Cons

  • Multiple, confusing fare classes
  • Charge to check luggage

Recent comments on social media from happy Delta customers:

When travel to Nicaragua was banned, Delta airlines refunded the full amount of both of my first class round trip tickets-no questions asked.

Reason number one million why I only fly @delta our captain Randy Smith came through shaking hands and handed a few wings to the kiddos!

So, there was I thinking I’d miss Monday night football. Turns out I can watch it on my flight. Mind blown #MNF #Delta

#Delta great flights from RIC to DSM via ATL and return.  I am a white knuckle flyer but I will fly you again!

Delta social media on the downside

#delta Hey, Delta what’s your on time average in an out of Asheville lately? You need a new regional carrier. Daily delays causing misconnects into ATL and back into AVL for commuters. What’s the problem?

#Delta flight 2415 from Atlanta to Newark was delayed for hours and just now canceled at 12:30am. Rescheduled for 6am? Am I supposed to sleep at the airport? No pilot and no reps at the gate.  Zero information and guidance!  Unacceptable.

Flight with American flag on the tail flying in the sky for one of the top airlines
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3.  American Airlines

American Airlines is another carrier that seems to offer plane Jane service with little  to distinguish it. In our social media survey, not one respondent mentioned them as a favorite. On the positive side, no one mentioned them as an airline to avoid.

The same holds true in our own personal experience. While we have flown American’s Portland to Hartford route multiple times, we can’t recall much about the service other than the chance to book a very economical first class upgrade when checking in for an ultra-early departure.

It’s interesting to note that TripAdvisor travelers seem to feel the same way. “There were no incidents”, “the staff was friendly and food decent” and “attendants were very friendly and accommodating” were typical comments about American.

Of the major carriers who offer multiple fare classes and fees, American’s are some of the easiest to decipher. With a basic Economy fare, the airline will assign your seat during check-in, or you can pay a little extra to select the seat yourself. Just in case you might be worried that you could accidentally book this restrictive fare accidentally, you’ll be asked twice to upgrade during the booking process.

Should you decide to step up a fare class from economy, the Main Cabin fare allows you to select your own seat, but be advised, your options are limited to the back of the plane. If you want to move forward of the wing, expect to upgrade to a Main Cabin Extra fare. Per seat fees vary depending on the flight and how close to the front the seat is located.

When it comes to luggage, you can expect to pay for the checked bag, a common fee assessed by all airlines in our top rankings with the exception of Southwest. For awhile, base fares did not include a carry on bag, but the powers that be at American seem to have woken up to the impracticality of such a policy for travelers. A special notice on the airline’s website now reads, “Customers flying Basic Economy are now allowed 1 free carry-on (in addition to a personal item) to all destinations.”

If you do check a bag, you may be interested to know that American loses more luggage than any other airline, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Here is what other travel surveys had to report about American Airlines:

  • Consumer Affairs: rated 3 out of 5 by customers
  • J.D. Power: #3 behind Delta
  • The Points Guy: #6

Airline Seat Details

  • American operates multiple aircraft types with
    varying seat sizes. Check out Seat
    to search by flight number or body type.

American Airline Pros

  • Carry on included with base fare
  • Many planes offer in-flight entertainment
  • Very few major complaints reported

American Airline Cons

  • 79.4% on-time average
  • Charge to check luggage
  • Unremarkable on-board service

Recent comments on social media from happy American Airline customers:

As I was feeling cold on #AmericanAirlines AA2522 flight to Las Vegas yesterday, one of the crew members offered me his own jacket! Sometimes small gestures like this totally define our customer experience.

Flying #AmericanAirlines from PIT to CLT and Suzanne Smith is the best first class attendant. American Loyal!

Thank you #AmericanAirlines !!  I travel pretty frequently and after having another cancelled, delayed, etc issue on another carrier, this crew on American completely changed my day!! I’ll lose my status but willing to earn again to be part of this family !! Top notch crew!!

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American Airline social media on the downside

I fly Southwest but tried American for business. Big mistake. Never again. #AmericanAirlines sucks. Not a business friendly airline.

Missed my connecting flight at O’Hare partially due (38%) to mechanical problems, and #AmericanAirlines would not supply hotel voucher.  I am out $230.

#AmericanAirlines worst customer service award goes to @AmericanAir

Happy airline passengers looking at a phone while enjoying a flight on a top airline
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5. Jet Blue

Having never flown Jet Blue, we were surprised to see it rank so well with our survey travelers. Comfy seats, great on-board service and orderly boarding are just a few of the things fliers like about Jet Blue.

When it comes to booking, things can get a little odd. When looking up our one-way test fare from JFK to LAX, we got a pop-up informing us that we needed to provide proof of return travel since we were scheduling an international flight. Strange, but a quick click on “continue” had us on our way. The next screen revealed four available fare classes. One immediately noticeable advantage when booking with Jet Blue is how simple they make it to understand what is offered with each price grouping. Simply click on the question mark by
each fare price and a comparison chart opens up.

Blue fares are the cheapest and permit both a personal and carry-on item but will not allow you to check a bag, not even for a fee. The fare is also changeable as long as you are willing to pay the charge. This fare is also eligible for an expedited security upgrade, allowing you to pass through faster if you pay the additional $10-$15.

So, what’s the difference between Jet Blue’s base Blue fare and an upgrade to Blue Plus? An included checked bag for one. You’ll also earn more frequent flier points for booking online. Other than that, there is little difference other than an additional cost – $29 in our test fare.

Jet Blue also offers a flex fare, allowing you to make changes with no fees and even more frequent flier points for booking online. You’ll get 2 checked bags and expedited boarding as well.

Jet Blue’s top-tier Mint fare, on the other hand, offers all of the same features as a Flex fare, but charges for changes and delivers only 3 frequent flier points per mile for online bookings. This is the same point advantage as a Blue fare. The only real benefit that we could see to booking Mint is a lie-flat seat on flights where it is offered. Make no mistake, this could be a huge luxury on longer international flights. You won’t find it offered on many shorter domestic flights, however, for a cost upgrade of o$1,000 over the cost of a Blue Plus fare.

Jet Blue also claims to offer unlimited snacks and beverages. Technically, most airlines will oblige if asked to provide an extra snack or drink, but the fact that Jet Blue puts it out there makes you think flight attendants might be a little happier about getting it for you. Heck, they may even offer it.

Passengers also report being able to select their seat without upgrading as well as free in-flight wifi. In our opinion, these two features alone are worth a higher rating. When adding in reports of Jet Blue on board customer service, we’d be surprised if this airline didn’t start moving up the ladder fast.

After a rocky start with a lot of bad publicity, it’s great to see an economical airline rocking it with customers and providing some real stellar service. Reviews rank it accordingly:

  •  Consumer Affairs: rated 4.5 out of 5 by customers
  • J.D. Power: #1 tied with Southwest in overall satisfaction
  • The Points Guy: #7

Airline Seat Details

  • Jet Blue offers multiple planes with different seat configurations. Use Seat Guru to search by flight number or body type.

Jet Blue Airline Pros

  • Carryon included with base fare
  • Many planes offer in-flight entertainment
  • Very positive customer sentiment
  • Easy to decipher fare classes
  • Unlimited snacks and beverages

Jet Blue Airline Cons

  • 70% on-time average – one of the industry’s lowest
  • Charge to check luggage
  • Limited or non-existent itineraries from some airports

Recent comments on social media from happy American
Airline customers:

JetBlue is the Google of airlines, and Delta is Bing.

HELPFUL TIP: always fly @JetBlue when possible. They have the most leg room in coach. Excellent free snacks, top in the game And free seat selection without upgrading or paying a fee. Not paid to say this, just grateful for an airline that still puts passengers first

#jetblue is the best airline, hands down.

JetBlue just helped me with an emergency situation, so grateful that they do in fact put passengers first

Jet Blue on the downside

Having the worst experience with @jetblue They are the absolute worst! They are nasty and none of them like their jobs. #neveragain

@jetblue you usually have great food but flying from Canada recently there was no #vegan meal option and no non-dairy milk for coffee

I know I’m the Larry David of the eco-movement hehe… Other than this experience, I’m very fond of you @jetblue!

Plane at gate for one of the top airlines
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5. United Airlines

While never listed as an airline to avoid, United did get the lowest marks from our surveyed travelers. Complaints regarding seat size and legroom were rampant, though. Interestingly enough, Seat Guru reports a 17.7 inch seat width in economy for Airbus narrow body jets and a 17.2 inch width for Boeing 737s. This is slightly over the seat size for top-ranked Southwest. Leg room is the same.

However, if you were to move up a grade from base economy to economy plush, you’ll gain an extra six inches of leg room at a standard narrow seat width of just over 17”. Fortunately, extra stretching room isn’t all you’ll gain with this upgraded fare.

United, like most major domestic carriers, operates under a multiple fare class system. Also similar to other airlines, a basic economy fare will not allow you to tote a full-size carry on or to select your own seat. These will be assigned at check-in according to what is available at that time. Expect plenty of center seat and back-of-the-plane assignments.

United is quite clear on the restrictions associated with this fare class, offering many warnings and multiple opportunities to upgrade. If you should decide to do so, the next class fare, an Economy Fare, was only $35 more in our test. If you want make sure you secure a window or an aisle, it might be worth it as this fare class allows you to select your seat, but be advised, all Economy fare options are at the back of the plane, mostly well behind the wing. You might be able to book a seat a little farther up, but these are center seats, the least desirable option for most single travelers. On some flights, you will also be offered the chance to upgrade to a fully refundable fare at nearly double the cost, or to select a United Premium plus ticket. These are available on longer flights and are similar to first class seating.
To jump up to true luxury, opt for business class, for lounge style seating in a personal space.

Shorter domestic flights are usually easier to decipher. Aside from Basic Economy and Economy fares, you’ll find the option to make your ticket fully refundable or to purchase a first class fare. United’s multiple fare options on longer flights are some of the most confusing out there, so buyer beware.

If multiple fare pricing classes aren’t difficult enough to decipher, United has decided to offer bundles upon selecting an upgraded fare. You’ll find these quite disingenuously offered on the booking page, presented almost as if you had no choose but to select one. If you aren’t interested in adding a seat with extra legroom, United Club Access or a checked bag to your fare, simply click continue beneath all of this nonsense to book at the rate you selected.

Like most airlines, United charges for checked baggage, $30 a piece at the time of this writing. Unlike most other airlines, United has a host of complaints, including an entire blog dedicated to the topic by popular travel blogger, Nomadic Matt. The post, bluntly titled “15 Reasons Why Flying United Sucks”, claims that United loses children, kicks service dogs and breaks guitars. The latter has been well documented on Youtube. He also claims that “Their in-flight service sucks, and the flight attendants are pretty sour. (My guess? It’s a manifestation of the crappy corporate culture post-merger.)”

What do others say? Here are the rankings.

  • Consumer Affairs: rated 3.25 out of 5 by customers
  • J.D. Power: #6 below segment average
  • The Points Guy: #4

United Airline Seat Details


  • Average width: 18.4”
  • Average pitch: 32”

Even More Room

  • Average width: 18.4
  • Average pitch: 35-38

United Airline Pros

  • Carry on included with base fare
  • Many planes offer in-flight entertainment
  • Wider than average seats

United  Airlines

  • 71.4% on-time average
  • Charge to check luggage

Recent comments on social media from happy United Airlines customers:

You should try #UnitedAirlines never had any issues with them .

Nice flight on #UnitedAirlines#UnitedFirst to #MauiAirport#PHOG

Thanks #UnitedAirlines for sending us on another Airline after two flights were cancelled. What could have been a bad start to the day worked out splendidly!!! Thanks!! #HalifaxtoVegas

#unitedAIRLINES what a fantastic lunch. Lots of flavor and chicken was very tender and juicy.

Airlines on the Downside

I love when #unitedairlines makes me check my bag and then I walk on the plane and count 15 open spots. It’s really my favorite.

#UnitedAirlines once again soaks it’s most loyal customers to line the pockets of it’s executives and stockholders. United’s motto: Screw the passenger any way you can.

Really disappointed @UnitedAirlines Flight delayed due to mechanical issues. Missed my international flight. Stuck in Houston for 24 hours, missed a day of work, lost hotel fees and all you give me is $40 in food and a night. Never again. #unitedAIRLINES#fail

The gate agent hand wrote my wife’s seat number on another person’s boarding pass. My wife was in the seat and they made her move to another seat. No explanation given. What good is it to reserve a seat when they take it away. #UnitedAirlines

I have never seen such gross incompetence as I have at @united. 2 cancellations in 24 hours, they lost my bag that I paid for, and I had to pay $500 out of pocket to get to my final destination. The #UnitedAirlines customer service is appalling. Will anyone compensate? @united

@UnitedAirlines has me crying in public at the airport #UnitedAirlines

Avoid at All Costs – Frontier Airlines

Discouraged airline passenger sitting on a suitcase in the airport.
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Travelers in our survey unanimously agreed to avoid Frontier Airlines at all cost. Unfortunately, our own experience can only add to the bad publicity the airline receives.

Looking to save a few bucks on a fare from Hartford to Portland, Oregon, we booked a late evening flight on Frontier for three members of our family. The fare was fantastic and the timing was good allowing them to leave after work on a Thursday.

The morning of the flight, I received a notification via email that the flight was being delayed by two hours. Since I was already in Oregon and actively engaged with work for Seconds to Go, I alerted my family in Connecticut about the issue and went on my way.

An hour so later, I got a call from my son letting me know that the delay in Hartford would make them miss their connection in Denver. Since he was at work, Ali and I interrupted our day’s travel to phone the airline and see what could be done.

The problems started when someone with heavily accented English took the call. We both had trouble understanding the other, but finally established the fact that I was calling about a delayed flight.

She managed to get my confirmation details and look up the flight number only to assure me that the flight was leaving on schedule. I asked if this was a change, explaining again that I had received an email alerting me to a delay. At this
point, I was put on hold for 20 minutes while she investigated the flight status. When she returned to the line, she assured me that there was no delay. In fact, the flight would now leave five minutes early. Before alerting my family to the good news, however, I took a moment to look up the flight on the airport website. Bradley International was indeed showing a delay of the same duration as that originally reported in the early morning email
alert that I had received.

Back to the phone I went.  I waited another ten to fifteen minutes for a heavily accented agent to pick up. I recapped the events of the day with her only to have her respond, “that flight is delayed”.

I’m not sure where the disconnect was and why one agent could immediately determine the delay while another insisted the flight was on time even after investigating for over 20 minutes, but that was unfortunately not the end of our story.

I explained to the agent that the delay would cause my family to miss their connection. More tapping of the computer keys at her end revealed some startling information (insert heavy sarcasm here).

“You’ll miss your connection,” she told me.

Of course, I had already mentioned this more than once, so I immediately got down to business.  “What will you be able to do for us,” I asked.

Several more minutes of tapping on the keyboard and the agent informed me that she could rebook my family on a flight on Sunday, three days away. Yes, three days.

Now keep in mind, there was no bad weather at either the departure or destination airport. There was no real weather anywhere at all. The flight delay was one of a handful that day, not something that would cause a chain reaction of unavailable flights and a flurry of rebookings.

I explained to the agent at frontier that this wouldn’t work for us. My husband had reservations on a fishing charter the next morning and that he would need to arrive that night. To complicate things further, I was flying home on Tuesday using my son’s companion pass on Southwest. It was hardly worth flying them in late on Sunday night only to leave early  Tuesday morning, but if he didn’t make the trip, I wouldn’t have a flight home.

Attempting to find a solution, the agent put me on hold for 20 to 30 minutes. I waited, thinking the long wait would be worth it when she came back with a solution.

Unfortunately, my patience was not to be rewarded. When the agent came back on the line, she informed me that sometimes she would be given the option to rebook people on another airline, but they were not giving her that option for this flight. The only thing she could do was rebook for Sunday or cancel and refund.

I explained  my disappointment and how the service would have worked on other airlines. For one thing, Southwest would have alerted me to the fact that I would have missed my connection due to the delay and even rebooked me.

Needless to say, she didn’t take kindly to this comparison and told me so, demanding that I not compare Frontier to Spirit (yes, Spirit). She then told me that my family would need to go to the airport and have the situation taken care of at the ticket counter as she was done helping me unless I wanted to cancel and get a refund.

To consolidate the ending to an already long story, agents at the ticket counter were no more accommodating. Even escalating to a manager didn’t help solve the situation. They informed my family that they didn’t have contracts with other airlines to reroute stranded travelers in situations like this but would refund the fare.

Three budget flights booked at a total of $471 ended up costing over $1700 as we had to rebook on Delta at the last minute. If you decide to take advantage of Frontier’s bargain-basement fares, take a look at their travel schedule for your departure and arrival destinations. If flights are few and fare between, make plans for being stranded if one of your flights is delayed or cancelled. If you have this kind of wiggle room in your schedule, you’ll find it’s hard to beat Frontier’s initial fares. Keep in mind thought, that everything associated with that fare is extra. Do you want to take a carry on bag? That’s extra. If you
want to pick your own seat, you’ll tack on several dollars more.

To make it easier, Frontier offers several bundled packages that may make it more economical to take advantage of add-ons such as getting a seat assignment ahead of the flight or checking a bag.

Unfortunately, we find it impossible to recommend Frontier. The one time we did fly the airline, on-board service was dismal, seats were uncomfortable and the experience overall was below average. Of course it might be easier to write off the downside in favor of an ultra low fare, if the poor on-board service weren’t echoed at the ticket counter, the gate and call center when problems arise. I might be more magnanimous if ours were an isolated incident, but travelers across our survey echoed similar experiences:

Frontier is the worst. Frontier has bait and switch pricing. Super low fares but YOU.PAY.FOR.EVERYTHING. Seat assignments, a can of soda, all luggage, overhead or checked. The planes are bare bones, no charging ports, no entertainment, no WiFi

I have never flown Frontier or Spirit but have heard nothing but bad things.

My husband was scheduled on Frontier for a work trip. They cancelled his flight and didn’t have another leaving for three days!!! They couldn’t even schedule him on another airline. Had to pay out of pocket to get home.

If you still aren’t convinced about Frontier’s poor showing in traveler sentiment, check out the responses we pulled from social media below. Also, take a look at the ratings.

  • Consumer Affairs: rated 2 out of 5 by customers
  • J.D. Power: Last and below segment average
  • The Points Guy: 10 out of 10

Frontier Airline Seat Details

Frontier Airlines operates multiple aircraft types with varying seat sizes. Check out Seat Guru to search by flight number or body type.

Frontier Airline Pros

  • Bargain-basement pricing
  • Wider than average seats on some flights

Frontier Airlines Cons

  • Inflexible and uniformed customer service
  • Charge to check luggage
  • Infrequent schedules from some airports
  • No contract with other airlines to rebook you if
    your flight is cancelled

Recent comments on social media from happy Frontier customers:

Please FRONTIER keep flights from Harlingen to Chicago going please don’t change anything about it it’s perfect

Do happy for Frontier! Loved you back in the 80’s and so glad to see Frontier shining again- love From your Continental family

Frontier Airlines
on the Downside

@Flyfrontier needs much improvement. I would NOT recommend ANYONE patronizing this airline. My flight was delayed 3.5 hours. As a result I missing my Cruise and Frontier did absolutely NOTHING to compensate me for a delay that was THEIR fault. #frontierairlines

Passengers were told to take a refund and deal with it. That or wait until Monday and no options for hotels or food. @FlyFrontier@FrontierCare#frontierairlines

If you want to pay round trip for a one way then have to buy tickets on another airline to get home.. yeah frontier is #scammers

Frontier airlines has horrible and incompetent app and customer service. they charged me for a mistake they made. $40 to correct a mistake that was made on my booking of two flights. what a piece of crap company

How is it that my bros flight was delayed 7 HOURS getting to Philly and now going home it is delayed again? @FlyFrontier Be better #frontierairlines#frontier

Listen. If you’re booking a ticket with @FlyFrontier@frontierair thinking #FrontierAirlines “is okay. This will be fine.” Don’t. It will not be okay. Everything is not fine. They are not in the business of being customer centric. They’ll lie, hold your money, kill your spirit.

I flew on Frontier Airlines once. Never flew it again.

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Kathleen Hesketh

Kathleen is a travel agent with Mickey World Travel, a platinum level Authorized Disney vacation planner, where she helps people discover the magic of a Disney vacation and other travel destinations. She is also the chief author and editor for Seconds to Go - a travel blog where she shares experiences from traveling the U.S. with her daughter, Ali.