The Top 5 Domestic U.S. Airlines
This year’s World’s Best Awards survey closed on March 2, just before widespread stay-at-home orders were implemented as a result of COVID-19. The results reflect our readers’ experiences before the pandemic, but we hope that this year’s honorees will inspire your trips to come — whenever they may be.
It can sometimes feel like complaining about airlines is a truly American pastime. After all, who among us hasn’t had the disheartening experience of getting stuck in a bad seat? Yet Travel + Leisure readers had ample praise for the operators they deemed the best domestic airlines. This year’s high fliers were smaller, more nimble carriers that readers said have well-designed cabins, good routes to hot destinations, and onboard service that actually feels human.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, T+L asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise ships, spas, airlines, and more. In the airlines category, readers rated carriers on cabin comfort, service, food, customer service, and value.
Related: The World's Best Awards 2020
Coming in at No. 3 this year, Alaska Airlines impressed with its onboard service and popular loyalty program. “I’m always treated very well and very much appreciated, whether I’m flying first class or the main cabin,” said one reader, adding “Love their loyalty perks and customer service assistance on the phone — none better.”
At No. 4, Southwest Airlines was just a shade behind Alaska. “It has the best value, free bags, excellent flight crew, and the seats are comfortable,” commented one fan. “They fly everywhere in the U.S. and Caribbean that we love to travel.” Many readers sang the praises of Southwest’s Bags Fly Free policy, which includes up to two checked bags in all fares. Other respondents gave crews high marks. “Love the customer service and the friendly — sometimes funny — flight attendants,” said one reader.
When it comes to the biggest of carriers, only Delta Air Lines ranked in the top five this year. “Their in-flight staff is better than most,” said one voter. “The comfort is well worth the expense,” said another, referring broadly to Delta’s onboard experience. One reader had specific praise for the carrier’s business class, Delta One: “You can't beat it,” this reader said. “It’s got comfort, privacy, exceptional food, and great crew.”
As for No. 2, Hawaiian Airlines, it moved up two spots from last year. “Maybe their good customer service can be attributed to where they fly,” said one respondent, nodding to the wonderful destinations the carrier serves. Others said the strong route network — both inter-island and to the mainland — is an asset, and readers praised the quality of service and in-flight meals. “Since Lee Anne Wong took over executive chef duties, the food in first class has gone from good to very good to excellent,” said one fan.
Yet with all these impressive attributes, no carrier was able to top last year’s winner, JetBlue, which once again takes the title. Read on to find out why these are this year’s best domestic airlines.
1. JetBlue Airways
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 78.73
More information: jetblue.com
This year’s highest marks went to JetBlue, which also won last year and is a part of our World’s Best Awards Hall of Fame. “They are simply amazing,” gushed one reader. “Consistently excellent airline with great customer service,” said another. “Love their loyalty program,” added a third, who posited, “Will any other airline ever compare?” JetBlue’s spacious economy cabins and excellent Mint premium cabin make for in-flight comfort, and many readers appreciated the free Wi-Fi aboard flights. While its position as the top U.S. carrier may seem secure with praise like this, passengers aren’t lowering their expectations. Said one fan, “Gate agents and in-flight crews are phenomenal, but we need to see expanded service with competitive prices.”
2. Hawaiian Airlines
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 78.32
More information: hawaiianairlines.com
3. Alaska Airlines
More information: alaskaair.com
4. Southwest Airlines
WBA Hall of Fame honoree. Score: 77.61
More information: southwest.com
5. Delta Air Lines
More information: delta.com
See all of our readers' favorite hotels, cities, airlines, cruise lines, and more in the World's Best Awards for 2020.