Best and Worst Airlines for 'Hassles': Southwest Takes Top Honor, American Ranks Last

Bloomberg has ranked the 10 largest U.S. airlines in terms of the greatest risk of “hassles” which includes flight delays and cancelations, packed planes, and high fees.

See the 5 Worst Airline Fees of All Time

This includes such criteria as the percentage of filled seats and while lack of empty middle seats are an inconvenience to passengers, it is also a primary goal of the airlines to fly with 100% occupancy in order to keep revenues up and fares down.

Here is the top 10, from “best’ to worst” according to Bloomberg:

Best and Worst Airlines for ‘Hassles’

  1. Southwest
  2. Frontier
  3. Alaska
  4. AirTran
  5. Delta
  6. JetBlue
  7. Continental
  8. United
  9. US Airways
  10. American

Airport Rankings: Worst in U.S.

What the Rankings Mean

The rankings, at least in terms of delays and cancelations, do not necessarily mean the airlines underperformed. For example, early East Coast storms hit JetBlue and American particularly hard (though one can certainly argue whether these airlines responded well to these delays – or not).

Another factor: American Airlines is last in the Bloomberg rankings, but one must take into account the fact that the carrier declared bankruptcy last month – the last of the legacy carriers to do so in the past 10 years. After a lot of trimming, it may well emerge as a leaner entity that will rise in the rankings.

What’s More Important to Flyers, Hassles or Cheap Airfare?

Another consideration in analyzing these rankings: what do passengers really want?

Many do not like all the fees associated with air travel today, particularly the baggage fees – which may partly explain Southwest’s high ranking since it is the only airline that gives its customers two free checked-bags.

See the Chart of Airline Fees

For many flyers, however, the cost of airfare trumps everything. Airlines know this and try to remain competitive. For example, the last several airfare hikes of 2011 – there have been 22 attempts so far this year – ended in failure when not enough airlines joined in.

And staying competitive is becoming increasingly difficult. Ask Southwest CEO Gary Kelly who recently warned his troops that the carrier’s costs were too high: “We currently do not have a sufficient cost advantage to stimulate the market because our fares are much closer to our [legacy carrier] competitors.”


Published: December 19, 2011