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Consumer Reports Ranks Best and Worst Airlines

According to Consumer Reports' 2013 list of the best and worst airlines, Virgin America is the top carrier in the U.S.

The worst? It couldn't be more obvious: No-frills Spirit Airlines earned an unfavorable Consumer Reports score of 50, coming in last in a list of 11 carriers.

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The Consumer Reports National Research Center polled more than 60,000 travelers, who collectively took about 32,000 flights last year. Airlines were evaluated based on cabin comfort and cleanliness, baggage handling, ease of check-in, cabin service, and in-flight entertainment.

Travelers clearly haven't overlooked Virgin's serious efforts to offer a five-star flying experience, from higher customer-service standards to more comfortable and stylish cabins. On Virgin, passengers can order food and drinks via personal touch screens, surf the Web (for a fee), and get cozy on leather seats with an impressive 32-inch pitch in economy—which is one or two inches roomier than standard seat pitch on most legacy-operated planes that fly domestically. According to one Consumer Reports respondent, Virgin America's "leather seat cushions are so nice in coach, there's no reason to fly first class."

As usually happens in these kinds of surveys, domestic discount carriers score the highest with travelers, with major legacy airlines bringing up the rear. The legacy carriers—Delta, US Airways, American, and United—all earned below-average scores in cabin cleanliness, seating comfort, and in-flight entertainment.

Spirit, which offers cut-rate fares yet gouges travelers with a deranged menu of ancillary fees, including a notorious $100 carry-on bag charge, received below-average ratings in every category.

Here's are the Consumer Reports rankings, including each airline's overall score:

  1. Virgin: 80
  2. Southwest: 85
  3. JetBlue: 85
  4. Hawaiian: 82
  5. Alaska: 81
  6. Frontier: 78
  7. Delta: 71
  8. US Airways: 66
  9. American: 66
  10. United: 63
  11. Spirit: 50

Do you agree with the results of the report? What are your picks for best and worst airlines?

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