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The best and worst US airlines of 2022, ranked objectively. Where is your favorite?

The best and worst US airlines of 2022, ranked objectively. Where is your favorite?

The Wall Street JournalThe company’s airline rankings were released. They do a good job comparing operating performance of airlines. I don’t think that’s all you need to know, but if you understand what rankings are trying to do (and don’t want DOT stats), they can be a useful snapshot.

Delta is back on top. The perennial strong competitor, Alaska, is close behind, although it has had several operational problems. Southwest comes in third – although they completely failed over the holidays (recency bias!) JetBlue is consistently an operational mess, here worse than Spirit and Frontier.

While I expect Delta to announce its victory, note that the subheading is “No airline had a particularly good year.”

The Daily it doesn’t just look at on-time performance, extreme delays (note that not all delays are created equal, despite proponents of “D0”), and tarmac delays (which are worse for passengers). They look at lost bags and unintentionally denied boarding. United and American, which stopped paying so much to encourage voluntary bumps, come off badly, while Delta remains willing to pay big to get passengers to choose another flight and avoid involuntarily denied boarding. Finally, they look at DOT complaints, although that’s a bit of a “double dip” on other performance metrics.

DOT data only runs through October, so Southwest complaints and lost bags in December are not considered in the ranking. In some ways, it’s too early to run rankings in 2022 if you’re going to rely, in part, on DOT data.

There are important things that these rankings do not consider, for example:

  • route network, who takes you where you need to go at convenient times? Who has backup flights and empty seats even if something goes wrong?
  • friendly staff, passengers often just want to be treated a little better than self-loading, and that experience is not considered here. Delta and Southwest employees seem to hate their jobs less than American and United employees, on average.
  • Value for money spent. Delta and JetBlue include onboard internet with the cost of the ticket. Southwest packs checked bags free of charge. If you buy a basic economy ticket on United, you won’t even be able to take a full-size carry-on bag (unless you have elite status or a co-branded credit card). at the same price Different airlines provide different customer value.
  • Onboard experience. Even though United will be adding entertainment to the back of its planes (joining Delta and JetBlue), American doesn’t have that. Southwest’s regular seats have a few inches more space than competitors. The in-flight experience is not the same on all airlines.

Rankings that focus on operations also say nothing about domestic experience versus international experience. United and American offer good business class lounges for international passengers. Delta won’t have its first until 2024. I consider United’s current international vacancy lower than American and Delta’s. United was also a laggard in business class dining quality and quantity, and surprisingly (compared only to US competitors), American outperformed.

And, of course, there’s no discussion here about the frequent flyer program – which can give you access to a better travel experience (upgrades!) and a better value travel experience.

The best airline for you will depend on schedule, price and experience – which one has the product you want at the best price, although operational performance will of course play a part. It is Delta’s historic operating performance that has helped it earn a revenue award and allowed it to deliver less value through its frequent flyer program than competitors.

While Delta is at the top operationally, it doesn’t quite make it by the margins it used to have. Objectively, its operating performance has been worse – just (slightly) better than everyone else.