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Best Airlines in North America, Ranked

SmarterTravel

For the twelfth consecutive year, JetBlue tops the list of best airlines in North America. It ranks first among low-cost carriers in J.D. Power’s annual ranking of North American airline satisfaction. Alaska Airlines is ranked highest among traditional airlines for the ninth straight year. Southwest, which is grouped in the low-cost category, had the second-highest score overall.

Best Airlines in Each Category

From highest to lowest-ranked, the best airlines in North America within the “traditional airline” category were Alaska, Delta, American, Air Canada, and United. Among low-cost carriers, the best airlines were JetBlue, Southwest, WestJet, and Frontier, in that order. (Virgin America, Hawaiian, Spirit, and Allegiant were not ranked.)

Both Southwest and JetBlue have cemented themselves as fan favorites. JetBlue in particular is known for the quality of its in-flight experience. But some cracks are beginning to show in JetBlue’s reputation. Despite finishing on top again, JetBlue’s score declined 11 points from last year. (It saw declines in six of the seven categories measured.) Southwest, on the other hand, improved over last year’s score and finished only one point behind JetBlue.

While JetBlue maintains the best in-flight experience among U.S. carriers, it has eroded many of the perks that differentiated it from the competition. One has to imagine that the carrier’s decision to charge for checked bags factored into its declining score. Southwest, on the other hand, has been steady as she goes, happy to look better and better in comparison to its rivals.

Overall, however, customer satisfaction in the airline industry continues to grow. “While the perception of the airline experience still has a lot of room for improvement, there is notable progress in terms of satisfaction among the highest-ranked airlines in the study due to their keen focus on meeting or exceeding passenger needs. The airlines are clearly listening to their passengers and are taking action,” said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power.

Satisfied, or Simply Tolerant?

Indeed, overall customer satisfaction reached a 10-year high. Of course, whether or not this progress is due to actual improvement or is simply the result of customers grudgingly accepting that the good old days are gone forever is up for debate. The same press release that touts the progress airlines have made also includes this little tidbit:

Passengers More Tolerant of Costs and Fees: Satisfaction in the cost & fees factor continues to improve significantly, increasing by 12 points to 658 from 2015. While lower fares contribute to this improvement, passengers are also more tolerant of paying ancillary fees such as baggage fees or fees for extra legroom.

“More tolerant” does not equal “more satisfied.” Just because I’ve become “more tolerant” of celery as an adult doesn’t mean I want it on my salad. But at least things aren’t getting worse.

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