The Most Travel-Friendly US Airlines and Airports

Everyone knows that the flying experience isn’t only limited to the time you spend up in the air. It includes your time in the airport and chatting with customer service reps from the airline you’re flying with.

If we’re expecting passengers to be on their best behavior, then it seems only fair that airlines and airports do their part in keeping everyone happy. Airlines and airports can do their part to reduce travel turbulence by making all-around improvements. After all, passengers shouldn’t have to pay an obscene amount of money for tight cabins and cramped terminals.

Even terminals that host “budget” airlines should still have modern amenities and enough space to give travelers a positive attitude.

Let’s take a look at the best places for travelers to take off from and which airlines provide the best overall experience.

The Airports

More Space, Less Stress

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that being packed into small spaces with strangers like sardines actually sucks. And while being shoulder-to-shoulder with people is unavoidable on the plane, it’s totally avoidable in the terminal.

Many airports are working to create space where people can spread out and destress. Additionally, these airports are cutting out background noise and overcrowding by bringing in high-tech solutions.

  • Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) uses touchless technology like ticketing kiosks that customers activate with their phones and concessions that use contactless payment. They also opened an area called “Presley’s Place,” where families that need to calm down children or travelers with sensory sensitivities can go before or after flights.

  • Over the summer, Seattle-Tacoma and Boston Logan tested digital queuing for TSA checkpoints that allowed customers to reserve a time slot to go through security.

  • San Francisco International Airport recently implemented a quiet airport program to reduce the annoying background noise in the airport terminals.

  • Tampa started a meal delivery service to give customers the power to order food from any terminal without leaving their gate (think Grubhub in an airport).

More to Look At

To create more space for travelers, multiple airports across the country are adding new terminals or expanding their existing layout. On top of that, they’re transforming airports into museums for passengers who have long layovers or like to get to the airport early.

  • LaGuardia, typically thought of as an airport of nightmares, is in the middle of an $8 billion renovation project to make it larger and more stunning than ever. The airport now features local art and murals, independent restaurant options that mimic the cultural diversity of Manhattan, and floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase the NYC skyline. Considering that JFK is still an all-around disaster, we anticipate that more people will want to fly in and out of LaGuardia. Hopefully, the other NYC-adjacent airports will take a page out of LGA’s book.

  • PIT is also working on a brand new terminal that hopes to evoke the Pittsburgh local environment. The $1.4 billion terminal was designed by Luis Vidal and is expected to be completed in 2024. Fun fact: the steel they’re using is locally sourced as well!

  • San Francisco’s new Harvey Milk terminal had a partial opening in early 2020 and is hoping to debut the rest in 2024. It displays exhibits and murals that honor Milk’s life and pays tribute to the city’s history.

Room to Breathe

In the latest airport additions and expansions, the newest craze has been adding in outdoor areas to give passengers some fresh air.

  • PIT’s new terminal will have at least four terraces, two of which are past security.

  • LaGuardia will offer an outdoor dining area in its central terminal

  • Delta is opening outdoor Sky Decks for Sky Club members in their major hubs, including Atlanta, JFK, Salt Lake City, and LAX. (But that’s more on Delta and more of an exclusive perk.)

Flying Green

Airports are also working to reduce their carbon footprint by implementing more natural light, energy alternatives, and locally sourced building materials.

  • Kansas City’s $1.5 billion airport renovation project centers around sustainability. Their goal is to have the highest LEED certification (green-building rating) when they open in 2023. Their blueprint creates a carbon-neutral airport by using native plant landscaping, carbon sequestration, and renewable energy resources.

  • The Chattanooga Airport became the first airport in the country to operate entirely on solar power.

Massive Expansions in General

Now that we’re moving past the pandemic, more people than ever are flying. As the number of flights is expected to increase steadily over the next twenty years, multiple airports are taking on billion-dollar expansion projects.

These airports include:

  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

  • O’Hare International Airport

  • LaGuardia Airport

  • Salt Lake City International Airport

  • Los Angeles International Airport

  • Orlando International Airport

  • JFK International Airport

  • Newark Liberty International Airport

  • Pittsburgh International Airport

  • Kansas City International Airport

  • Dallas Fort Worth International Airport

(You’ll notice that all three NYC airports are on this list because of New York airports’ reputation as being the absolute worst in the country. It’s about time, guys.)

The Airlines

To give you the best picture of US airlines, we’re using the data collected by The Points Guy. However, we feel it’s important to point out that on a percentage grade system, the number one overall airline got a D+. By the time we get halfway through the list, everyone’s failing. And that’s just sad.

Here are the top ten airlines in America:

Airline (2020 rank) Total score (out of 100) Top-performing areas Lowest-performing areas
1. Delta(1) 67.93 Inoluntary bumps, Lounges Affordability
2. Southwest(5) 65.80 Customer satisfaction, Bag/change fees, Award availability Lounges
3. United(6) 60.56 Route network, Frequent flyer Affordability
4. Alaska(2) 59.70 Lounges Bag/change fees
5. American(4) 58.34 Family, Route network Baggage
6. JetBlue(3) 52.17 Cabin features, Award availability Bag/change fees
7. Hawaiian(7) 43.27 Timeliness, Involuntary bumps Customer satisfaction, Route network
8. Spirit(10) 43.19 Cancellations, Affordability Wheelchairs/scooters, Bag/change fees
9. Frontier(9) 34.85 Cancellations, Affordability Involuntary bumps, Bag/change fees, Award availability
10. Allegian(8) 28.67 Involuntary bumps, Baggage, Wheelchairs/scooters Timeliness, Cancellations, Family, Frequent flyer

Reliability

Everyone knows that the flying experience isn’t only limited to the time you spend up in the air. It includes your time in the airport and chatting with customer service reps from the airline you’re flying with.

If we’re expecting passengers to be on their best behavior, then it seems only fair that airlines and airports do their part in keeping everyone happy. Airlines and airports can do their part to reduce travel turbulence by making all-around improvements. After all, passengers shouldn’t have to pay an obscene amount of money for tight cabins and cramped terminals.

Even terminals that host “budget” airlines should still have modern amenities and enough space to give travelers a positive attitude.

Let’s take a look at the best places for travelers to take off from and which airlines provide the best overall experience.

The Airports

More Space, Less Stress

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that being packed into small spaces with strangers like sardines actually sucks. And while being shoulder-to-shoulder with people is unavoidable on the plane, it’s totally avoidable in the terminal.

Many airports are working to create space where people can spread out and destress. Additionally, these airports are cutting out background noise and overcrowding by bringing in high-tech solutions.

  • Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) uses touchless technology like ticketing kiosks that customers activate with their phones and concessions that use contactless payment. They also opened an area called “Presley’s Place,” where families that need to calm down children or travelers with sensory sensitivities can go before or after flights.

  • Over the summer, Seattle-Tacoma and Boston Logan tested digital queuing for TSA checkpoints that allowed customers to reserve a time slot to go through security.

  • San Francisco International Airport recently implemented a quiet airport program to reduce the annoying background noise in the airport terminals.

  • Tampa started a meal delivery service to give customers the power to order food from any terminal without leaving their gate (think Grubhub in an airport).

More to Look At

To create more space for travelers, multiple airports across the country are adding new terminals or expanding their existing layout. On top of that, they’re transforming airports into museums for passengers who have long layovers or like to get to the airport early.

  • LaGuardia, typically thought of as an airport of nightmares, is in the middle of an $8 billion renovation project to make it larger and more stunning than ever. The airport now features local art and murals, independent restaurant options that mimic the cultural diversity of Manhattan, and floor-to-ceiling windows that showcase the NYC skyline. Considering that JFK is still an all-around disaster, we anticipate that more people will want to fly in and out of LaGuardia. Hopefully, the other NYC-adjacent airports will take a page out of LGA’s book.

  • PIT is also working on a brand new terminal that hopes to evoke the Pittsburgh local environment. The $1.4 billion terminal was designed by Luis Vidal and is expected to be completed in 2024. Fun fact: the steel they’re using is locally sourced as well!

  • San Francisco’s new Harvey Milk terminal had a partial opening in early 2020 and is hoping to debut the rest in 2024. It displays exhibits and murals that honor Milk’s life and pays tribute to the city’s history.

Room to Breathe

In the latest airport additions and expansions, the newest craze has been adding in outdoor areas to give passengers some fresh air.

  • PIT’s new terminal will have at least four terraces, two of which are past security.

  • LaGuardia will offer an outdoor dining area in its central terminal

  • Delta is opening outdoor Sky Decks for Sky Club members in their major hubs, including Atlanta, JFK, Salt Lake City, and LAX. (But that’s more on Delta and more of an exclusive perk.)

Flying Green

Airports are also working to reduce their carbon footprint by implementing more natural light, energy alternatives, and locally sourced building materials.

  • Kansas City’s $1.5 billion airport renovation project centers around sustainability. Their goal is to have the highest LEED certification (green-building rating) when they open in 2023. Their blueprint creates a carbon-neutral airport by using native plant landscaping, carbon sequestration, and renewable energy resources.

  • The Chattanooga Airport became the first airport in the country to operate entirely on solar power.

Massive Expansions in General

Now that we’re moving past the pandemic, more people than ever are flying. As the number of flights is expected to increase steadily over the next twenty years, multiple airports are taking on billion-dollar expansion projects.

These airports include:

  • Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport

  • O’Hare International Airport

  • LaGuardia Airport

  • Salt Lake City International Airport

  • Los Angeles International Airport

  • Orlando International Airport

  • JFK International Airport

  • Newark Liberty International Airport

  • Pittsburgh International Airport

  • Kansas City International Airport

  • Dallas Fort Worth International Airport

(You’ll notice that all three NYC airports are on this list because of New York airports’ reputation as being the absolute worst in the country. It’s about time, guys.)

The Airlines

To give you the best picture of US airlines, we’re using the data collected by The Points Guy. However, we feel it’s important to point out that on a percentage grade system, the number one overall airline got a D+. By the time we get halfway through the list, everyone’s failing. And that’s just sad.

Here are the top ten airlines in America:

Airline (2020 rank) Total score (out of 100) Top-performing areas Lowest-performing areas
1. Delta(1) 67.93 Inoluntary bumps, Lounges Affordability
2. Southwest(5) 65.80 Customer satisfaction, Bag/change fees, Award availability Lounges
3. United(6) 60.56 Route network, Frequent flyer Affordability
4. Alaska(2) 59.70 Lounges Bag/change fees
5. American(4) 58.34 Family, Route network Baggage
6. JetBlue(3) 52.17 Cabin features, Award availability Bag/change fees
7. Hawaiian(7) 43.27 Timeliness, Involuntary bumps Customer satisfaction, Route network
8. Spirit(10) 43.19 Cancellations, Affordability Wheelchairs/scooters, Bag/change fees
9. Frontier(9) 34.85 Cancellations, Affordability Involuntary bumps, Bag/change fees, Award availability
10. Allegian(8) 28.67 Involuntary bumps, Baggage, Wheelchairs/scooters Timeliness, Cancellations, Family, Frequent flyer

Reliability

 

 

When you book a flight, you want to be sure that you’ll get where you’re going on time and that your luggage will arrive with you. You’ll probably pick an airline that you know will have your back (and bags).

When judging reliability, people think about how often flights are delayed or canceled, how often flights are overbooked, and how luggage and wheelchairs are handled.

  • Hawaiian, Southwest, and United Airlines are the best about being on time. Hawaiian Airlines boasts a record of nearly 95% of uncanceled flights arriving within 15 minutes of the scheduled time to land.

  • Surprisingly, Spirit leads the way for the fewest cancellations. Only 1.57% of their scheduled flights didn’t take off.

  • Allegiant, Delta, and Hawaiian have the best track records for not over-booking. All three had 0 involuntary denied boardings over the last year.

  • Allegiant is also the best at taking care of your property, while American is the best at losing your bags, and Spirit is the best at mishandling mobility devices.

Travel Experience

You probably care less about the plane you’re on for short-term trips, but if you’re booking a cross-country or international flight, you want to make sure you’re comfortable. Travel experience encompasses everything from the benefits onboard like WiFi, size of the seats, and entertainment to general customer satisfaction.

  • As the only airline that currently offers free in-flight WiFi and individual TV screens for each seat on every flight, it’s no surprise that JetBlue ranks number one for travel experience.

  • Also not a shocker: the lowest-ranking airlines for onboard experience were your budget airlines Frontier, Allegiant, and Spirit.

  • The airlines with the lowest customer complaint rates were Southwest (0.003%), Allegiant, American, Delta, and Alaska. The airlines with the highest complaint rates were United (0.027%), Frontier (0.052%), and Hawaiian (0.104%).

Costs and Destinations

This category measures which airlines are the most budget-friendly and how large their overall airport network is. It also accounts for baggage and change fees. There shouldn’t be too many surprises in this section.

  • The top three airlines for domestic reach were United (who flies in and out of 230 airports each month), American (227 airports), and Delta (207 airports). The airline with the least reach was Hawaiian, which only visits approximately 15 domestic airports each month.

  • When it comes to the most mileage for your money, Spirit’s number one, with Frontier and Allegiant close behind. The most expensive airline is Delta.

  • Southwest has the lowest amount of extra fees charged between checked bags and ticket changes.

Loyalty Perks

 

 

Some people prefer to fly with the same airline over and over, so which is the best to make a long-term commitment to? In short: who has the best frequent flyer program and reward system.

  • United, Delta, and American have the best frequent flyer programs. United claims the top spot because of its extensive range of partner airlines for earning and redeeming miles.

  • Southwest has the best rewards program because it offers the most incredible redemption value for your points.

  • Allegiant is not the airline you want to marry. They’re good for a one-time fling every now and then, but they are not the partner you want in the long run.

To wrap it up, we see a lot of the work being done to improve the state of our airports, but we think it’s time for the airlines to start putting in some measures for improvement. If the best airline out there is only getting a D+, we have a problem. And flying is not something you want to grade on a curve.

 

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