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Editors' Choice Awards 2010: Most Customer-Friendly Airline

by SmarterTravel Staff
Editor's Choice - Most Consumer Friendly Airline
Editor's Note: This story was originally published on May 23, 2010. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, AirTran, American, Continental, Delta, Frontier, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue, low-cost airline, Southwest, Spirit, United, US Airways, Virgin America.

Winner: JetBlue

If you asked 1,000 people what "customer-friendly" means to them in the context of a business, you'd probably get 1,000 variations on a few central themes: good value, decent service, and reliable performance. And even within these categories, there's a seemingly endless list of possible interpretations. "Value," for example, means something different to everyone. Such is the difficulty of distinguishing a business as the most costumer-friendly in its field, the result of which is imperfect at best, arguable at worst.

That is, unless you're talking about the airline industry.

These days, travelers are quick to equate flying with a form of torture, as if arriving at one's destination is a reward for having survived the journey. A more measured take is that flying simply isn't that fun, with long lines, cramped seats, and severely diminished in-flight services. Add in the growing menu of fees and charges, and, well, the whole thing can seem more like a hassle than a vacation.

With this award category, we're recognizing the airlines that still strive to make flying tolerable, maybe even enjoyable, by providing a service that's affordable, dependable, and (dare we say it?) a little bit fun. And the clear winner, in our opinion, is JetBlue. Southwest is the runner-up.

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We came to this conclusion by considering several factors, including the Department of Transportation's 2009 statistics for on-time arrivals, lost baggage, involuntary bumping, and complaints, as well as fees, cabin comfort (weighing the results of our Best Coach-Class Experience category), and route network. Each airline was given a number of points for these categories, and the airlines were ranked on their total score.

JetBlue won on the strength of its cabin comfort, moderate fees, and strong performance with regard to low consumer complaints, bumping, and mishandled bags. Its on-time numbers were very poor, likely due to its large presence at delay-prone JFK.

Southwest rode the strength of its (few) fees, which are by far the most costumer-friendly in the industry, along with solid performance in most of the other categories (save for its cabin quality, which we rated very low).

Unsurprisingly, the full list divided itself into two halves, with low-cost carriers at the top and legacy lines (and Spirit) toward the bottom. Each of the legacy lines—Continental, US Airways, American, Delta, and United—scored in the bottom half of our rankings. Most ranked poorly in all categories, with a few notable bright spots: Continental scored well in cabin quality, American was in the top five for involuntary bumping, and United's on-time performance was strong.

Virgin America, AirTran, and Frontier, along with Hawaiian, rounded out the top half.

This is merely an empirical confirmation of what is already obvious to most travelers: Legacy lines, with their expensive fees and oversized operations, simply can't offer the same quality experience found at smaller carriers. JetBlue, Southwest, and the rest of the low-cost lines clearly have a leg up on the competition.

Your Turn

Do you agree or disagree with our winner in this category? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

See All Editors' Choice Winners

Most Customer-Friendly Airline | Best Free Airline Perk | Best Coach-Class Experience | Best Value Airline | Best Value Destination | Best Hotel Loyalty Program | Best Rental Car Loyalty Program | Best Travel Rewards Card for Domestic Use | Best Travel Rewards Card for Overseas Use | Best Travel Rewards Card for ATM Use | Best Airline Website | Best Use of Social Media | Most Pet-Friendly Airline for Checked Pets | Most Pet-Friendly Airline for Carry-On Pets | Most Eco-Friendly Airline | Best Airport for Layovers | Best Airport for Connections

 
 
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