Home Airlines The Best U.S.-Based Airlines (2022 Update)

The Best U.S.-Based Airlines (2022 Update)

by joeheg

When booking an airline ticket, you’ll have to choose between several airlines. How do you decide? Maybe you always fly with one airline because you have status with them, or you have their co-brand credit card and get a free bag and preferred boarding. Whatever the reason, you have one.

For me, it’s a little more complicated. I have co-brand credit cards from every airline we regularly use. I have no status with any airline, and I’m not looking to achieve any status level, either. I pick an airline based on a combination of the flight experience, price, and schedule. We also have to consider the likelihood that we’ll have a major schedule meltdown during our trip. That means I’m looking for the lowest price, but I’m willing to pay more for an airline that I’d prefer to fly. Schedule and cost are set, so the only variable I have to set a value for in the equation is which airline we like to fly on the most.

Every airline is going through its struggles at the moment and none of them are exempt from leaving you stranded for a few days because of weather, staffing, or any other reason.

Please understand that these ratings are mine alone (with some serious input from Sharon since I’m not a stupid husband) (Note from Sharon: Yup. Happy wife = happy life, my love!). Your situation and rankings might be opposite from mine (ours). That’s OK because, like many things, Your Mileage May Vary. 

1. Delta (Unchanged)

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Delta is our favorite airline. They tend to do all of the important things right. Their flights are usually on time. The onboard product is consistent throughout their fleet, offering Wi-Fi on almost all of their planes and still offering IFE, unlike other airlines that tell passengers to use their own devices. On average, Delta’s employees seem to enjoy their jobs, or at least they act as if they do. I also like that Delta’s Twitter desk is (usually) able to help out in a pinch instead of just sending an AI-generated reply.

For us, the big advantage of flying on Delta is their primary hub, located in Atlanta, is very close to Orlando. While we can find some non-stop flights on Delta (like to New York, Los Angeles and Salt Lake City), most of our other flights will require a connection. Because Delta has so many flights in and out of Atlanta, even if there’s a problem (like weather delay, mechanical issue, or a missed connection), there’s usually a different way we can get to our destination. Delta also runs a good airline.

Our round-trip flights to New York in 2021 were uneventful. Our experience gave us no reason to drop Delta from the top spot.

2. JetBlue (Up From #3)

JetBlue Plane

JetBlue regains a spot in our ranking this year, moving back to #2.

Our flights with them in 2021 were fine, even if one of them was diverted due to a medical emergency. The way the crew handled the situation was part of why JetBlue improved its ranking.

I still think JetBlue tries to do things that make the onboard experience pleasant. You get free Wi-Fi at every seat on all of their planes. They’re upgrading all their older planes to have up-to-date media screens with DIRECTV and SiriusXM radio.

3. Alaska (Up From #4)

Alaska Airlines Plane

I still want to like Alaska more. I feel if we did, they’d rank even higher. In 2020, we took our second flight with them in as many years, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the airline. Alaska is based in the Northwestern US, and they only fly to Portland, Seattle, San Fransisco and San Diego from Orlando. Many people who fly with Alaska tend to love their customer service, lounges, and loyalty program (and frequent flyers LIKING a loyalty program is rare). One often overlooked fact is that Alaska has many flights to Hawaii, so they’re an airline to remember when flying to the islands from the west coast. (Note from Sharon: And don’t forget their issue with snacks)

Alaska has joined the Oneworld alliance and is adding partners to its Mileage Plan program. However, some of the new additions don’t offer great value, so I’d keep watching this space.

4. Southwest (Down from #2)

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Southwest drops two places this year. It’s not because of the product offered, which is unchanged from previous years. It’s because Southwest has decreased the number of non-stop destinations from Orlando. This was a major reason we flew with the airline.

Their fares are no longer the lowest, so they need to compete on the product they offer. Their Transfarency®  policy (getting two free checked bags per person, no charge for seat assignments, no seat assignments at all [although their new CEO admits to considering switching to assigning seats in the not-too-distant future]) sets them apart from the other airlines. Southwest planes don’t have IFE screens, but they offer free movies and live TV streaming over their Wi-Fi network onboard. Their Wi-Fi is also reasonably priced at $8 per day, which is great if you’re connecting flights.

Southwest does have its quirks. If you want a good seat, you’ll need to pay for early bird, which costs from $15-$25 per person.

If Southwest brings more flights back to Orlando, the airline will move higher on the list. If I need to take a connecting flight to get places, there are airlines I’d pick before them.

5. American (Unchanged)

American Planes Parked at Terminal

American keeps the #5 place on the list but I was close to bumping them up a spot or two. It’s not because they’ve fixed their problems but because the other airlines have dropped back to American’s level.

While Delta and JetBlue could say their operations ran better than AA, that’s no longer the case. You’re just as likely to be stranded because of a snafu with another airline. There are still some downsides about flying on American that leaves them in the middle of the pack.

After our bad experiences with American’s employees (remember the “Your bag is too big for the overhead” incident Sharon experienced), we’ve adjusted our expectations and how we pack before getting on one of their planes. I also check which type of aircraft we’re flying on and try to avoid former US Airways planes with no entertainment and no power, even in first class.

Even if I was willing to pay more for a Main Cabin Extra seat, I’m not ready to fork over the prices American charges.

6. Frontier (Unchanged)

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We’ve flown on Frontier several times and the experience is satisfactory. You know going in it’s going to be a no-frills experience and you get precisely that. Their seats don’t recline and you don’t even get a functional tray table to work on.

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While Frontier often advertises low rates, by the time you add in the things we would want to have when traveling, like a carry-on bag and possibly a checked bag, it adds $50 to the ticket price each way. Possibly more, now that they’re lowering their maximal baggage weight to 40 pounds.

I purchased the “The Works” package for one of our flights, which included our checked bag, a carry-on bag and seat assignment in Frontier’s stretch seat, which drastically improved the onboard experience, including giving loads of legroom and a full-size tray.

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7. Spirit (Unchanged)

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There are many things about Spirit that don’t match our flying preferences, but if you’re thinking about flying with them, here are some things you should know in advance before buying that ticket.

8. United (Unchanged)

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We’ve made a conscious decision not to fly with United. This is just our choice because we don’t want to reward them for bad behaviors. Nothing has changed since we’ve made this decision, and until management starts making better decisions, we’re still staying away. We can do this with little hardship because United doesn’t fly any routes from Orlando that aren’t also covered by another carrier. It would be a harder stance to maintain if we were a hub-captive flyer.

9. Allegiant (Unchanged)

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Allegiant is last on the list for us. It’s just an airline we won’t fly on for many reasons, which I’ve spelled out in this post.

Final Thoughts

So there’s our list and the reason behind the rankings. I left out some airlines because they have a limited route network like Hawaiian, Sun Country and Silver Airways. This list is based on Sharon’s and my preferences. We value our vacation time and like to have uneventful travel as much as possible. A reliable airline with flight times that fit our needs is more important than finding the cheapest fare or earning credits for frequent flyer status. Your needs may be much different.

We’d only been on a few flights in 2021, but our experiences were similar to our previous travels. I was really impressed with JetBlue’s new planes, which helped them jump up a spot. Flights with Delta and American went pretty much as expected. We have a few more trips planned for 2022 than last year so we’ll get to see how these new rankings hold up.

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

1 comment

John February 21, 2022 - 5:38 pm

United is regarded by many people that actually fly them as by far the best US carrier at this point. Even the regular travel bloggers like WinginIt also acknowledge this and heap massive amounts of praise on the improved operations.

I’m 1K, OneWold Emerald and Mosaic and I can tell you that in my experience United is the clear leader in the US and it isn’t even close. Would suggest you change your title to clearly indicate that you are ranking these airlines based on your own experience WITHOUT FLYING ON THEM. Or just title it what it is – worthless clickbait.

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