World’s Worst Airlines for Customer Service 2015
When it comes to air travel, some hiccups, like weather-related flight delays and the occasional lost bags, are unavoidable. But one factor that is within an airline’s control is their customer service. What makes the difference between a positive experience and a negative one usually isn’t how long you waited on the tarmac or whether the in-flight headphones worked, but how you were treated. Good customer service can go miles toward making a passenger feel welcomed or smoothing over a difficult situation. But unfortunately, not every airline is able to pull this off with aplomb: the 25 airlines listed here ranked last in customer service in this year’s World’s Best Awards survey.
From the moment a passenger clicks onto an airline’s website to the second they retrieve their last piece of luggage from baggage claim and make their way to the airport exit, there are so many opportunities for a brand to get their customer interface right—and perhaps even more ways they can screw it up, as the 2015 T+L survey responses highlighted. For more on the methodology of our survey, click here.
Several readers noted that a clunky website can be maddening, especially when coupled with inadequate phone support, as is a hectic boarding system. Other T+L readers complained about shoddy loyalty programs that inspired, well, disloyalty, with fewer benefits and expanded restrictions that make it difficult to use frequent flyer miles. But the subject that prompted the most rancor was unfriendly or disinterested airline representatives and flight attendants. “Poorly trained staff,” wrote one survey respondent about Spirit Airlines, which received the dubious distinction of being the number one worst airline for customer service. “Unprofessional and not helpful on the plane flight.”
Disgruntled tweets, frustrated Facebook messages, detailed critiques on travel review websites like SkyTrax, and official complaints registered with the Department of Transportation in a public report help complete the picture now that social media is making it easier than ever for travelers to voice their concerns. Some users craft concise complaints in 140 characters or less on Twitter, while others document their displeasure with tell-all Instagrams. “Hey @AmericanAir,” said Instagram user @UpgradeToFirst, who posted an unappetizing photo of an inflight meal. “Is this the best you can do? The taco salad is absolutely gross.”
With critiques that range from the heartbreaking to the utterly outrageous, here’s what T+L readers and other travelers had to say about customer service on the 25 airlines that came in on the bottom of pile.
No. 25: Copa Airlines, International
Panama’s national airline gets good marks for on-time flights, but a few angry dings for its handling of passengers. “COPA is a great airline but the customer service is horrible,” wrote one T+L reader. Other travelers took issues with some of the airline’s fee policies. “@CopaAirlines is the only airline that charges for babies,” said one flyer on Twitter. “Lots of options now, buddy…#AvoidCopa.” The airline’s website confirms the fee for international flights, stating that “[i]f the infant is traveling in the adult's lap, the charge may be equivalent to 10% depending on the published fare of the adult plus the taxes that might apply.” Not the full fare, but still a bitter pill to swallow for traveling parents.
No. 24: Austrian Airlines, International
Although there were a few complaints about Austrian Airlines on online air travel guide Skytrax—one traveler found the Austrian Airline’s staff at the airport in Innsbruck to be “particularly unhelpful and rude”—T+L readers were gentler with their comments, lauding the airline for having great food and an indulgent business class experience. One reader acknowledged, however, that other passengers might not have had as good of a flight, writing, “My rating may be skewed because I was upgraded to Business Class :)”
No. 23: LAN Airlines, International
This South American airline group based in Santiago, Chile, received mixed marks from World’s Best Awards survey respondents. “Once a LAN plane is in the air it’s the best business class in the sky,” wrote one customer, noting the spacious layout of the brand’s 787s and excellent food and service. But the on-the-ground experience wasn’t reviewed nearly as well: “Takeoff delayed with no explanation. Agents give you the runaround, reserved seating not honored.” Reviewers on Skytrax also complained about changed flight times and poor communication, as well as a frustrating website and chaotic boarding process.
No. 22: WestJet, International
Based in Calgary, WestJet is a low-cost Canadian carrier that’s been in the air since 1996. Although their website states a commitment to a “customer-first attitude,” actual customers sometimes tell a different story. “Seating comfort and room is lacking,” said one T+L reader. “At the desk, WestJet charged for our bags while telling us that they were saving us money,” said a SkyTrax user. “Some people find the corny jokes from the staff amusing. We prefer fewer (maybe better) jokes and better more efficient service.” Echoed another reviewer: “Flight crew were nice but definitely not professional.”
No. 21: Air Canada, International
Last year, 17 travelers complained to the Department of Transportation (DOT) about problems with Air Canada’s refunds. “3 family members on @AirCanada flight,” said @RayBee150. “Engine starts on fire. Emergency landing. Losing a day of vacation. Receive $20 meal voucher. #Brutal.” T+L readers and other travelers also complained about small, uncomfortable seating and unresponsive staff. “The service or lack of it is something that Air Canada needs to sort out asap,” wrote a SkyTrax reviewer. “All the staff looked like they would have preferred to have been somewhere else.”
No. 20: Air France, International
Nothing cramps a good trip like a lost bag. @TyDamasio documented the return of his backpack on Instagram. “Finally got my bag back a week later. #AirFranceSucks.” The Parisian translation of the derogatory hashtag has over 100 uses on Instagram. T+L readers seem to have had conflicting experiences, with some raving about the airline and others sharply criticizing inconsistencies in the rewards program, a problem that led one respondent, a former Air France Platinum member, to stop flying the airline altogether. Service at airports was also a problem for some readers: “Once the plane took off, business class was excellent. Food very good. Service very good. But on-the-ground customer service of Air France reps is dismal.”
No. 19: Sun Country Airlines, Domestic
This small, Minnesota-based airline earned the number 5 spot in this year’s list of world’s best airlines for food, in no small part because of the fantastic selection of micro brews they serve onboard. But there may be room for improvement in other areas. The number of positive survey comments about the airline has sharply declined in the past few years, perhaps owing to the 2011 sale of the company and ensuing changes to its once raved-about loyalty program.
No. 18: AeroMexico, International
You don’t need to speak Spanish to know that @_Lalorajas wasn’t happy with his AeroMéxico flight. “No está nada cool lo que hicieron hoy…” This passenger was angry that AeroMéxico sold his ticket before the plane had even boarded. Mexico’s flag carrier had 49 complaints with the DOT regarding reservations, tickets, and boarding—more than any other category last year. “Flight delayed two hours without any real explanation or announcement,” said one T+L reader. “Delays, delays, bad customer service when needed,” added another. One survey respondent kept their comment simple: “Lousy.”
No. 17: TAM, International
Although this Brazil-based airline merged with LAN, Chile’s flag carrier in 2012, it continued to operate as a separate company until recently, when the company (now the biggest airline in Latin America), announced that it would be rebranding as LATAM in the coming years. It remains to be seen what effect this will have on TAM’s customer service, which has been criticized for its lack of English-speaking phone support and clunky website. “The booking process is difficult,” said one SkyTrax reviewer, “particularly if you are a foreigner and [haven’t] got the TAM Fidelidade [loyalty program].”
No. 16: Delta Air Lines, Domestic
This major domestic carrier was critiqued by World’s Best Awards survey respondents for everything from the large amount of SkyMiles needed to redeem an award to crabby flight attendants and a lack of expected amenities. “They forgot to cater the flight from Atlanta to Anchorage so we spent seven hours eating pretzels,” commented one respondent. “Last trip [I] paid for premium economy, [and they] did not have it,” said another. Paying for an upgrade and never receiving it? That’s not a good way to please customers. Delta does have a Twitter handle devoted to customer comments, however, and promises to answer at any hour of any day. “After diverting my plane and then delaying it a total 7 hours,” said @OhDearSavannah, “I received a $6 voucher from @Delta & @DeltaAssist. I think it’s a gag gift.” Sometimes, it’s better to say nothing at all.
No. 15: Air Berlin, International
“In-flight staff not very friendly,” noted one World’s Best Awards survey respondent. Issues with communication seemed to be common among unhappy passengers (along with cramped, narrow seats). One reviewer on SkyTrax paid for an upgrade he did not receive, and had been fighting for a refund for three months to no avail. Several reviewers also complained about the German airline’s loyalty program. “Being a Top bonus platinum member, Air Berlin is doing nothing at all to make you welcome,” said a SkyTrax reviewer. “When flying any other OneWorld airline partner, as a platinum member you get a treat even flying in economy...but not so at Air Berlin, you are treated as a [once-a-year] flyer.”
No. 14: China Airlines, International
China’s Airlines gets kudos for having friendly in-flight employees, but many customers took to the internet this past year to complain about unexplained delays. “@ChinaAirlinesID you are the worst airline ever, thanks for doing nothing about stranding us in the airport,” tweeted @dylankelly at the Taiwan-based carrier. Another Twitter user trying to get through to the airline by phone posted a screenshot of a call log with the note, “@ChinaAirlinesID this is RIDICULOUS. On hold for almost an hour and counting. #whatcustomerservice?” Perhaps angry customers would be appeased by the chance to try out the airline’s tricked-out new premium business class seats, which are premiering on the airline’s new 777 fleet—but we have a feeling they’d settle for an on-time arrival.
No. 13: TAP Portugal, International
Portugal’s formerly in-debt flag carrier airline, which tied for worst airline in a customer service report compiled by AirHelp last month, has had an eventful year: the Portuguese government sold its controlling stake in the airlines to the Atlantic Gateway Consortium, a private company run by JetBlue founder David Neeleman. In advance of the sale, TAP pilots went on a 10-day strike to show their opposition to the impending privatization, which, needless to say, resulted in some very unhappy customers. More changes are expected as the new management settles in; the company recently announced an $8.5 billion purchase of 53 Airbus aircrafts to spruce up its fleet. Here’s hoping they invest in customer service improvements as well.
No. 12: AirTran Airways, Domestic
Four and a half years after Southwest acquired this low-cost carrier, the integration was completed in December 2014. What remained of this small fleet did not meet customer expectations. “Need to upgrade services to meet minimum industry standard,” noted one T+L reader. ”Yeah,” said Facebook user David Silverman. “Non-stop until they decide to shift your flight schedule…”
No. 11: American Airlines, Domestic
After the U.S. Airways and American merger, which was first announced in early 2013, American Airlines became the world’s biggest airline. Is it any surprise the carrier inspires so many complaints? “The new management has undone much of what made American an outstanding airline. Service has declined in general but especially in first/business class,” wrote one World’s Best Awards survey respondent. Twitter user @AshtynABell concurred. “It seems that AA really doesn’t care about their customers. No matter how loyal the customers have been.” One T+L reader had a suggestion for how the airline might woo back former fans: “Need to adopt some new creature comforts for customers to stay competitive.”
No. 10: Iberia Airlines, International
Iberia might be one of the world’s largest commercial airlines, but apparently size doesn’t matter when it comes to customer service. “The flight attendants are not very friendly or helpful,” said one T+L reader. “If you ask for something they act like you are imposing on their own time.” Several other readers concurred. “The worst crew I´ve ever seen, they are impolite and not service-oriented.” Bigger, it seems, isn’t always better.
No. 9: Alitalia, International
By the end of 2014, Italy’s national carrier had flown more than 720,000 passengers. One of those flyers, Twitter user @n6gold, expressed his frustration with the airline’s organization. “Alitalia check in…is a joke. Been here 20 mins. Haven’t moved. No bag drop. No C class desk. Disorganized chaos.” T+L readers had similar concerns, writing that Alitalia flights “don’t guarantee seats you picked months in advance,” and complaining about rude, unfriendly staff. A few survey respondents even swore off the airline entirely. “Alitalia was the worst travel experience of my life,” wrote one reader. “They have lost all of my and my wife’s luggage, and have never reimbursed us a penny for it even after us trying to call them for a year!!! I will NEVER step into their plane again, not even if the ticket is free.”
No. 8: Air China, International
“Always delayed,” wrote one T+L reader about China’s state-owned airline. “Don't let you use your iPhone during the entire flight even if it is on airplane mode.” Other readers had broader concerns: “All other airlines are much better in service, comfort,” wrote one survey respondent. “The food quality is very bad…every other Chinese airline is better.” One reader, however, gave Air China an A for effort: “I think they try harder than US-based airlines.”
No. 7: United Airlines, Domestic
It might not have taken the top spot for worst customer service, but United Airlines racked up a staggering number of complaints on our World’s Best Awards survey. Issues with seating were at the top of the list. “Bumped from paid-for first-class seats to last row in coach next to the toilets. Rep was too busy to even provide refund—had to follow up by mail and phone to get any compensation whatsoever. They did not seem to care about what they did,” wrote one survey respondent. “The United Board and the executives should be forced to ride in coach class for a week, including cancelled connections and lost luggage. Hell isn't as bad as this airline,” fumed another. More troubling were the survey respondents with special needs who complained about the airline’s treatment of them. “Was not treated well while traveling with my large service dog. I am a double amputee as a result of the Boston Marathon bombings. Will not fly this airline if I can help it,” wrote one T+L reader. “Horribleeee—was in a wheelchair and all but ignored,” said another. “Will never fly again with them.” Can’t say we blame them.
No. 6: Frontier Airlines, Domestic
Limited legroom is an area of contention, especially for frequent fliers. Cramped knees are commonly caught on Instagram, like this photo of @Ellechemist’s legs pressed up against the seat in front of her, accompanied by hashtags such as #frontierairlinessucks, #backpain, and #worstairline. To be fair to Frontier, they’re hardly the only carrier shrinking back on seat pitch. But survey respondents complained of other issues as well: “I hate flying with them. I have a service dog and they made it so hard to travel. I was flying stand-by and I had to talk to multiple desks on two sides of the Colorado airport. Made traveling more stressful.”
No. 5: American Eagle, Domestic
A regional subsidiary of American Airlines, American Eagle has been dinged for delays and unwelcoming attitudes. A recent trip on the airline made one World’s Best respondent long for the good old days of glamorous air travel: “I have been riding airlines since 1964 and there is no comparison from then to now. The experience now is horrid compared to…the 70's.” A reviewer on SkyTrax described the American Eagle staff’s style as “generally terrible/confrontational,” adding, “If these people spent half the time they do berating customers actually doing their jobs correctly maybe they wouldn't have such a terrible track record with customer service.”
No. 4: US Airways, Domestic
US Airways flew its last flight in October of this year (and released a very sweet video to commemorate the event). The brand merged with American Airlines in 2013, and American recently discontinued the US Airways brand name. In the coming year, customers will be watching American Airlines, now the largest airline in the world, to see if its growth in size is matched by an improvement in customer service. Considering that American is rated 11 in this list, it’ll be an uphill battle.
No. 3: Allegiant Air, Domestic
This domestic carrier serves the U.S., and provides charter service to Canada and Mexico. While the airline boasts low-low fares, it also has a large crowd of critics. “Never had a good experience with Allegiant,” said one T+L reader. “Unreliable planes, apathetic flight crew, and rude and unhelpful customer service.” On Twitter, @AllegiantSucks tracks complaints and links to negative news, like the story of a man who couldn’t get a refund for his wife’s plane ticket, even after she passed away. “The told me, no we don’t do refunds,” said the widowed man from Washington State. “No refunds under any condition.” That seems like a policy they might want to re-examine.
No. 2: easyJet, International
A low-cost British carrier with all-economy class seats, easyJet certainly inspired strong feelings among many T+L readers. “I would not fly on easyjet again! Period!” wrote one reader. “Problems at the gate, rush to make decisions to check in or lose your flight! This is no way to run an airline!” Another survey respondent chafed at the discount airline’s many additional fees, writing, “They charge you for everything.” (Some of that money is presumably going toward easyJet’s new drone inspectors, which will hopefully help curb delays.) But in the meantime, unfortunately, the airline might continue to receive reviews like this succinct nugget from a T+L reader: “Worst travel experience ever.”
No. 1: Spirit Airlines, Domestic
Spirit Airlines received lower marks for customer service than any other airline included in the World’s Best Awards survey. Not surprisingly, T+L readers had a lot to say about this low-cost carrier. “Worst airline in the world,” wrote one reader. “They leave you stranded when they cancel your flight, then basically tell you they don’t care. If they could figure out a way to charge for oxygen, they would do it. Used to fly them regularly but now I would pay more to avoid them.” The airline tries to deflect these types of customer complaints on Twitter, but the automated, robot-generated responses from “Spirit Autopilot” are hardly a consolation to disgruntled passengers. After receiving an unsatisfactory response for a complaint about the airline’s checked-bag fee policy, one user wrote, “This is your retort @SpiritAirlines? Did you also skimp on customer service to save $$?” As it turns out, yes, they did. “A big social media team costs money, so we put our feed on Autopilot to save you cents on every ticket,” states the company’s Twitter bio, which directs passengers to the customer service page of their website instead. That reasoning doesn’t reassure customers like @etholk, who wrote, “It would be nice if [you] guys even pretended to take the opportunity to show your customers that you care about them.”