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The 10 Worst Airlines in the United States

With the right airline and a dash of good luck, flying can be a relaxing, enjoyable, and even memorable experience. On the other hand, a poorly managed airline can make your flight miserable, break your budget, and leave you wishing you had just stayed home. 

Knowing which companies are more likely to offer you a quality experience isn't always easy, particularly if you haven't spent a lot of time in airports and on planes. Before you book a flight for your next vacation or business trip, check out this list of the ten worst airlines in America. It could save you a lot of time, trouble, and frustration in the end. 

Worst Airlines in the US

There aren't usually a lot of questions about which airline in America deserves the highest score, but there's a lot of debate about which one should be at the bottom. This list of airlines ranked from best to worst considers all the important factors that you should consider before buying your tickets: comfort, cost, safety, and reliability. 

10. Delta Air Lines

  • Destinations: Domestic and international
  • Checked baggage fees: $30 for the first bag, $40 for the second bag
  • Fleet size: 978 aircraft
  • Average flights per day: Over 4,000

The oldest airline in the US, Delta Air Lines, is consistently ranked as the country's best. Customers laud their customer service, promptness, and convenience. While Delta flights can get expensive, their comfortable seats and attention to detail help make the price worth it. 

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Delta Air Lines also performs well when it comes to on-time arrivals. Just over 81% of its flights arrive on time, and only 1.2% are canceled. That's good news for passengers who want to plan trips without worrying that their planes will never make it off the ground. 

9. Alaska Airlines

  • Destinations: Domestic and international
  • Checked baggage fees: $30
  • Fleet size: 315 aircraft
  • Average flights per day: 1,200

Alaska Airline's relatively low number of customer complaints proves that it's one of the better airlines in the country. While passengers are generally satisfied with the service they receive, some complain about the lack of entertainment options on flights. 

Based in Washington, Alaska Airlines surpasses a lot of other US airlines when it comes to on-time arrivals. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 77% of Alaska Airline's flights were on time from October 2022 to October 2023, and only 1.48% were canceled. Those numbers aren't quite as impressive as Delta's, but it's a solid showing for a smaller airline. 

One factor that keeps Alaska Airlines from being the best airline in the nation is their issue with passenger baggage. According to Wallethub's 2023 study, Alaska Airlines received a high number of mishandled baggage reports over the past year.  

Travelers with Alaska Airlines also recently had a frightening experience. The plane had to make an emergency landing when a door plug blew out of the fuselage shortly after takeoff. With lawsuits pending, that incident could have a major effect on how travelers view Alaska Airlines, potentially putting it on the opposite end of future lists of the best and worst airlines. 

8. United Airlines

  • Destinations: Domestic and international
  • Checked baggage fees: $35 for short-haul flights, $75 for long-haul flights
  • Fleet size: 944 aircraft
  • Average flights per day: 4,500

Headquartered in Chicago, United Airlines comes in a close third. It has a similar on-time arrival rate as Alaska Airlines, but the number of cancelations and delays is slightly higher. 

Although they may not offer quite the same level of comfort and entertainment, ticket prices for United Airlines are generally slightly lower than Delta's. They also had a fourth the number of customer complaints as the worst airline on this list. If you're looking for an airline that has a good chance of arriving on time and won't break the bank, United Airlines may be it.  

7. Hawaiian Airlines

  • Destinations: Domestic and international
  • Checked baggage fees: $30
  • Fleet size: 62 aircraft
  • Average flights per day: 260

When comparing the best and worst airlines, it's difficult to compare Hawaiian Airlines with juggernauts like Delta. They've got a fraction of the fleet size and run far fewer flights each day. As the name suggests, they also focus exclusively on transporting passengers to and from the Hawaiian islands. 

Despite those limitations, Hawaiian Airlines is a solid option for travelers headed to a tropical paradise. It has very few customer complaints compared to most competitors, and the cancelation rate is low. 

Before you rush to hop on a Hawaiian Airlines plane, however, keep in mind that it's one of the most expensive airlines in the country. Their on-time arrival performance is also well below Delta Air Lines, with more than 11% of flights arriving late. 

6. JetBlue Airways

  • Destinations: Domestic and international
  • Checked baggage fees: $0 for the first two bags, $75 for the third bag
  • Fleet size: 285 aircraft
  • Average flights per day: More than 1,000

Based in New York City, JetBlue Airways is known for stellar first-class in-flight services. Unfortunately, that experience comes at a premium price. With an average ticket price of $217, even premium economy and economy seats on JetBlue Airways come at a steep price. 

Travelers who are willing to pay can expect a relaxing flight with excellent entertainment. That's a good thing considering how many of JetBlue Airways planes are late. Their on-time arrival rate was only 66%. Maybe that's why they had the third-highest number of complaints last year. 

5. American Airlines

  • Destinations: Domestic and international
  • Checked baggage fees: $30 for short-haul flight, $75 for long-haul flight
  • Fleet size: 965 aircraft
  • Average flights per day: 6,700

American Airlines has a respectable on-time arrival rate of 75%, and only 1% of its flights were canceled last year. This Texas-based airline is more likely to be on time than JetBlue Airways, and it had fewer customer complaints over the past year. The reason it's not higher on this list comes down to other factors. 

The biggest problem with American Airlines is that they offer a less luxurious experience than Delta Air Lines but still charge equivalent — or higher — prices. That's a tough pill for passengers to swallow, especially with American Airlines' tendency to misplace their luggage. 

A concerning number of travelers have complained that their luggage was lost or otherwise mishandled during an American Airlines flight. Add that to frustrating experiences at check in, and it suddenly makes sense for one of the nation's oldest airline brands to fall near the bottom of this list. 

4. Allegiant Air

  • Destinations: Domestic
  • Checked baggage fees: $75 per bag up to 5 bags
  • Fleet size: 127 aircraft
  • Average flights per day: Doesn't fly every day

With an average ticket price of only $58, Allegiant Air is one of the most affordable airlines you'll find. However, those savings may not offset the inconvenience.

Among the top airlines in the country, Allegiant Air ranked fourth in terms of customer complaints in 2022. One of the most common issues people have is the number of flights they cancel and delay.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, almost a quarter of all Allegiant's planes were delayed, late, or canceled in the past year. That's a big number, especially when you consider their small number of flights. If it's important to arrive at your destination on time, you might want to avoid this Las Vegas-based airline and find one with a better reputation for reliability. 

3. Spirit Airlines 

  • Destinations: Domestic and international
  • Checked baggage fees: Ranges from $79 to $150
  • Fleet size: 202 aircraft
  • Average flights per day: More than 500

Like Allegiant, Spirit Airlines is appealing to travelers who want to save money on their next vacation. Spirit boasts an average ticket price of only $98, making it one of the least epensive airline brands available today. 

The downside is that even passengers flying on a budget expect and deserve comfort and quality service, and that's where Spirit Airlines falls short. Customers report that their planes lack legroom and entertainment, making even the shortest flights feel like an eternity. Those issues are a good explanation for Spirit Airlines' low customer satisfaction rate from the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

As if that wasn't enough, passengers are also unhappy with Spirit Airlines because so many of their flights fail to arrive on schedule. Data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics shows that less than 70% of Spirit Airlines flights arrived on time from October 2022 to October 2023. Of those, more than 2% were canceled, and nearly 7% arrived late. 

Cancelations combined with other factors, such as subpar in flight services, make it obvious why Spirit Airlines had the second-highest rate of customer complaints in 2022. They have a lot of areas to improve if they want to steer clear of the title of worst airline in America. 

2. Frontier Airlines 

  • Destinations: Domestic and international
  • Checked baggage fees: $55 to $89 for the first bag, $60 to $89 for the second, $85 to $95 for the third
  • Fleet size: 136 aircraft
  • Average flights per day: 500

The second-worst airline in the US is Frontier Airlines, and there are plenty of reasons why it's one of the worst airlines in the US. In 2022, they had the highest rate of customer complaints for US airlines and the second-lowest satisfaction rate from the American Customer Satisfaction Index. That's a terrible track record for Frontier Airlines, and it's backed up by a lot of legitimate concerns from travelers. 

To start, just under 65% of Frontier Airlines flights arrived on time in the past year. That's more than 15 points lower than Delta Air Lines. 

Although they have extremely competitive ticket prices, passengers complain that Frontier Airlines finds ways to add charges. They have fees that can significantly increase the expense of an otherwise affordable trip. For example, when you arrive at the airport, don't be surprised when you have to pay above-average prices for your baggage. Unlike many other airlines, which offer the first checked bag for free, Frontier Airlines requires travelers to pay $55 or more for each of their bags. 

High fees are more tolerable when they come with superior service and an enjoyable flying experience. Neither seems to be the case for Frontier Airlines, whose planes lack legroom and quality refreshments. Their planes may be fairly new, but that doesn't make up for problems during check in and cramped conditions while you fly. 

1. Southwest Airlines

  • Destinations: Domestic and international
  • Checked baggage fees: $0 for the first two bags, $75 for the third bag
  • Fleet size: 815 aircraft
  • Average flights per day: 4,000 

Rounding out this complete list of the best and worst airlines is another Texas-based company: Southwest Airlines. They may have had fewer complaints compared to some other airlines, but Southwest falls short in other areas. 

The breaking point for many passengers came in 2022 when a meltdown left thousands of travelers stranded and angry. In addition to that extreme scenario, Southwest Airlines' overall on-time arrival performance is mediocre, and they have a high number of canceled and delayed flights. 

Experts also give Southwest a lower score for safety, primarily because of an engine explosion that occurred in 2018. The incident ended with one fatality and several minor injuries, and it seriously tarnished Southwest Airlines' reputation. 

A ticket for Southwest Airlines doesn't come cheap either, with the average passenger fare coming in at $142. Combine that with a high rate of denied boardings and mishandled baggage reports, and you've got the perfect recipe for the worst airline in America. 

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Allen Lee

Written by Allen Lee

Allen Lee is a Toronto-based freelance writer who studied business in school but has since turned to other pursuits. He spends more time than is perhaps wise with his eyes fixed on a screen either reading history books, keeping up with international news, or playing the latest releases on the Steam platform, which serve as the subject matter for much of his writing output. Currently, Lee is practicing the smidgen of Chinese that he picked up while visiting the Chinese mainland in hopes of someday being able to read certain historical texts in their original language.

Read more posts by Allen Lee

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