Avoid Travel Headaches: The Best and Worst U.S. Airlines of 2024 Revealed

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Delta Airlines jet from below against a blue sky background

Wondering who to take your next cross-country flight with? Which major U.S. carriers are hot, and which are not? When figuring out the best U.S. airlines, personal experience is important, but so are cold, hard statistics.

The Wall Street Journal recently published its list of best and worst U.S. airline companies, grading them on seven “equally weighted operations metrics”: on-time arrivals, flight cancellations, extreme delays, baggage handling, tarmac delays, involuntary bumping, and complaints.

Well, here’s our overall take on that list, based on other studies and experiences, plus a little extra data on the top U.S. international and domestic airlines.

ViaTraveler’s Best and Worst U.S. Airlines

1. Delta Airlines

Boeing 777 Delta Airlines Plane in the Sky
miglagoa – stock.adobe.com
  • HQ: Atlanta, GA
  • Reach: Domestic & International
  • Fleet Size: 978 Aircraft

Do you remember the good old days when Delta was the butt of nearly every “crummy airline” joke? I barely can. These days, Delta is becoming a byword for excellence when it comes to airlines – not just in the US, but all over the world too. Flying in and out of hundreds of airports, it’s one of the world’s largest and most profitable carriers, so it must be doing something right.

As far as the WSJ is concerned, this is Delta’s sixth consecutive win. Delta comfortably takes the top spot as the best airline on our list.

Check out these other VT resources to learn more about Delta:

2. Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines Planes at Sunset in the Terminal
zeelichsheng / Shutterstock
  • HQ: Seattle, WA
  • Reach: Domestic & International

    Fleet Size: 314 Aircraft

Alaska Airlines is WSJ’s number two for the second year in a row now, and with a few of our frequent fliers using Alaska, the consensus around the office says this is deserved. Statistically, Alaska Airlines’ record is fantastic, with a few issues regarding baggage handling. That said, they score incredibly well in punctuality and the small number of canceled flights.

Not only that, but the Seattle-based carrier has a surprisingly good reach, partnerships with other airlines, and their own affordable travel insurance packages, which aren’t too shabby. Plus I’ve only got good things to say about their staff.

3. Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines Airbus A321neo aircraft in Daniel K. Inouye International Airport
Tada Images – stock.adobe.com
  • HQ: Honolulu, HI
  • Reach: Domestic & International
  • Fleet Size: 62 Aircraft

Hawaiian Airlines was excluded from the WSJ’s list “given its regional niche.” But Hawaiian scores favorably when you stack up their record against the national airlines the WSJ listed. And when you consider other metrics, you can happily bump it up to a top 5 position.

While it offers great access to Southeast Asia, it doesn’t offer many flights to the continental U.S., and its fleet is pretty modest for an international carrier. Still, they’re easily the best domestic carrier for travel around Hawaii, and offer great customer service.

See Related: Proven Ways to Get Free Flights and Airfare

4. Allegiant Air

Allegiant Airlines Airbus A319 landing in an airport
Carlos Yudica – stock.adobe.com
  • HQ: Las Vegas, NV
  • Reach: Domestic & International
  • Fleet Size: ~520 Aircraft

Possibly the largest upset on WSJ’s best U.S. airlines list was seeing Allegiant jump to a top-three position. This is purely anecdotal, but my experiences with this domestic carrier have either been “meh” or “grrr.” Reviews I’ve trawled through seem to vibe with this.

The carrier’s list of international destinations is a bit meager, only making short hops to Mexico and the Caribbean. But looking at the numbers, Allegiant genuinely does well for punctuality and has made huge improvements in reducing flight cancellations.

According to the WSJ, Allegiant did not involuntarily bump a single passenger from its flights in the past year. Not one.

They’re also undergoing fleet modernization, which should be complete around 2025. I’m sure this statement will age like milk, but I cautiously expect to see them jump in the ranking next year.

5. Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-700 airplanes at Atlanta Airport (ATL) in the United States.
Markus Mainka / Adobe Stock
  • HQ: Dallas, TX
  • Reach: Domestic & International
  • Fleet Size: 817 Aircraft

Say what you want about Southwest Airlines’ reputation for customer service, delays, and baggage handling. They’re one of the most reliable ways to get around the U.S., dominating the domestic flight scene. You can also use them for cheap flights to Mexico and the Caribbean.

Southwest’s public image has taken a decent thrashing for as long as I can remember. Putting that aside, what feels like a tradition of clickbaity Southwest articles aside, they get the job done. Southwest offers excellent access around the US and frequent flights, and they’re a great choice for budget-conscious travelers.

6. United Airlines

Airplane being preparing ready for takeoff in international airport at travel around in the world front view of landed airplane
ungvar / Adobe Stock
  • HQ: Chicago, IL
  • Reach: Domestic & International
  • Fleet Size: 948 Aircraft

United Airlines has taken some hammering in the past couple of years. There has been an increase in complaints regarding mishandled luggage and an increase in canceled and delayed flights, which points to either efforts to cut costs or poor management.

But United is still a reasonably reliable choice regarding U.S. domestic travel. The carrier’s international reach is top-tier, with over 300 destinations under United’s belt. Their fleet is also pretty modern, with standard cabins with decent amenities. 

They also operate a few Dreamliners, which I’m all for. Read our full United Airlines Domestic First Class review to see what it’s like flying in their 777.

See Related: Best Flight Search Engines to Book Cheap Airfare

7. American Airlines

Front of American Airlines Boeing 777
Cerib – stock.adobe.com
  • HQ: Fort Worth, TX
  • Reach: Domestic & International
  • Fleet Size: 957 Aircraft

It feels a bit like American Airlines is becoming something of a punching bag for Delta. Not like a heavy bag taking hooks, but more of a speed bag, suffering a death by a thousand wallops. It’s just average – too average for the world’s second-largest airline.

Besides its enormous fleet size and great international reach, American Airlines’ scores are unremarkable. Flights are typically a little more expensive, and delays and cancellations are a mixed bag, as are complaints about baggage handling.

8. Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines plane taking off
Markus Mainka / Shutterstock
  • HQ: Miramar, FL
  • Reach: Domestic & International
  • Fleet Size: 195 Aircraft

Oof, where to begin. As far as budget airlines go, Spirit’s fares are very reasonable. It’s the additional fees that get you.

Using similar tactics to airlines like Ryanair and Frontier (don’t worry; their time will come), you can expect to be charged for anything short of getting on the plane and breathing. Although there may be fees for those later, who knows?

Their customer service is also a bit wanting, and they haven’t had a great track record of cancellations. Their international portfolio is also limited, but they frequently offer the cheapest flights from the U.S. to top Caribbean destinations and Latin America.

See Related: Southwest vs Spirit: Which is Better?

9. Frontier Airlines

Frontier Airlines Airbus A319 in flight
Markus Mainka – stock.adobe.com
  • HQ: Denver, CO
  • Reach: Domestic & International
  • Fleet Size: ~140 Aircraft

Ah, Frontier, the Denver-based budget airline we all know and, well, not exactly love. They offer cheap flights across North America and sometimes destinations in the Caribbean, and that’s the kindest thing I can say about them.

Frontier saw a crazy spike in issues this past year, largely stemming from delayed and canceled flights. They don’t do well regarding customer service either – which I’m sure comes as a huge surprise.

From my assessment, much of this is due to an overstretched fleet and workforce. They just don’t have the people or planes to operate optimally.

10. JetBlue Airways

JetBlue Airways Embraer 190 aircraft departing an airport
Carlos Yudica – stock.adobe.com
  • HQ: Long Island City, New York City, NY
  • Reach: Domestic & International
  • Fleet Size: 290 Aircraft

This was another surprise for me. They enjoy great coverage of North America and operate out of several European airports, too.

And yeah, based on JetBlue’s recent public image issues and all that fallout stemming from the proposed Spirit merger, I knew they wouldn’t score well. Still, according to the WSJ, JetBlue “finished last in four categories: on-time arrivals, canceled flights, delays longer than 45 minutes, and tarmac delays.” Ouch.

JetBlue also seems to be having trouble turning a profit, making that merger block situation feel desperate. Consequently, it scores last on WSJ’s and is the worst airline on our list. Better luck next year!

Related Resources

James Oliver
WRITTEN BY

James Oliver

James, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, is a British-American writer and editor for ViaTravelers who has been writing since he learned how to use a pen. As someone who has spent much time trotting around the globe, James appreciates traveling smart and comfortably and has every intention of helping ViaTravelers's readers do the same!

James is all about traveling light, enjoys hiking around old forts and ruins, loves boring people with military history, and is always on the hunt for the best place to grab a bite to eat.

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