When millions of air travelers voted on the best airlines in the world, all of the much-maligned U.S. based airlines were left off the list. While we know that U.S. airlines can’t compete with the likes of the Middle Eastern carriers or the top airlines of Asia, many nevertheless have some redeeming features. Some of the U.S. airlines are undoubtedly better than others as well. In an effort to steer you right on your next U.S. domestic trip, TravelingMom’s family travel experts have developed a new kind of airline ranking: the “least worst” U.S. airlines.

Least Worst US Airlines

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

This past week, the winners of the annual Skytrax World Airline Awards were announced. Voted on by millions of passengers, the awards honor the best in airline service, comfort, and amenities.

Taking the top prize was Qatar Airways, one of the famed three Middle Eastern carriers known for its impeccable service. Also rounding out the top 10 (in ranked order): Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Etihad Airways, ANA, Garuda Indonesia, EVA Air, and Qantas.

What’s conspicuously missing from this list? Any U.S.-based airline, of course. All of the writers here at TravelingMom felt a little badly that the U.S. airlines most of us fly regularly were so excluded. Then again, since we fly them so regularly, we know all too well why they were overlooked. We decided to throw them a bone anyway. If anyone could defend the indefensible, it was us!


Devising our own survey using the most rigorous of scientific methods, we polled our army of frequent flying moms about their experiences on U.S. airlines. While we initially contemplated publishing a list of the best U.S. airlines, but we decided we couldn’t quite do that in good conscience. We reached a compromise.

So, without further ado, here is TravelingMom’s list of the least worst U.S. airlines of 2015. Take that, Qatar Airways.

The Winner: Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Devaluation

TravelingMom’s writers “LUVed” Southwest.
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Southwest Airlines has a very vocal group of loyalists who “luv” the quirky little airline that could. Now that the merger with AirTran is complete, Southwest isn’t so little any more. It has won over travelers of all stripes with its wacky flight attendants and flexible and family-friendly policies allowing two free checked bags and no change fees. For these reasons, I was not surprised to find it was the top pick of TravelingMom’s writers.

Texas TravelingMom Rebecca Darling sings the praises of the airline founded in her home state: “I love the laid back fun that Southwest provides. No one – no one – from check-in to flight attendant is grumpy or uppity like I encounter on other airlines. Everyone is helpful, happy, and the flight attendants that make the jokes during the flight are the best. Of course, no baggage fees and snacks help too!”

Suburban TravelingMom Jamie Bartosch also chose Southwest, noting that “they treat you like customers and human beings!”  She also cited the airlines “super-nice flight attendants, low fares and on-time flights” as reasons for her choice.

Road Warrior TravelingMom Nasreen Stump expressed further convincing arguments for Southwest: “I travel for business and Southwest’s flexible change policy is great for my work schedule. Things change frequently and I can cancel or make changes as needed and never lose funds. Plus as an A List member I can speed through airport lines and get drink coupons frequently.”

You had me at drink coupons.

The Runner-Up: JetBlue

Least Worse US Airlines - JetBlue

Free TV on JetBlue makes it a TMOM (& kid) favorite.
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

JetBlue was a very close second to Southwest in our TravelingMom poll, although we might have to call it a draw with TravelingMom’s founder Kim Orlando making JetBlue her pick. She writes: “I am a sucker for a smile and a little help at the airport or on a plane. Once (only once!) I arrived very early for a flight and JetBlue let me take an earlier flight than I had scheduled without a penalty.”  She also noted how JetBlue has made right on its mistakes in her experience: “a $15 credit showed up in my account after my flight was delayed 2 hours due to mechanical issues.”

Beyond Ordinary TravelingMom Shari Von Holten also chose JetBlue for its family-friendly options: “I love Jet Blue when traveling with the kids. The TVs distract them making traveling a breeze.”

Everyone Else

Even though these U.S. airlines didn’t make the top of the list in TravelingMom’s survey, some of our writers could still find it in their hearts to come to their defense. Here’s what our experts had to say about the airlines who couldn’t quite win our “least worst” survey.

Least Worse US Airlines - American

American didn’t fare too poorly in our poll.
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Our third place airline was American Airlines, the only legacy U.S. airline that multiple TravelingMom writers liked. It’s the frequent flyer miles that have won Triathlon TravelingMom Dana Zucker over: “I am a true American Airlines fan for one reason- the loyalty program AAdvantage!” She also credits AA for its “ wonderful social media team.” Her loyalty has paid off, as she regularly enjoys upgrades in her travel with American: “And oh the upgrades- based on our AAdvantage level upgrades are given a few days prior to travel. Now for short flights they do not take your reward upgrades; they are ‘free.’”

Unplugged TravelingMom Gina Vercesi defends Delta: “We have always had really good experiences with Delta. We also use an AMEX SkyMiles card which I love because we have a zillion miles to use for a trip to Italy next year.” She also cites “lots of direct flights lots of places out of NYC airports on Delta” as a reason for her choice. You certainly can’t argue with options.

Least Worse US Airlines - Virgin America

Virgin America: Cooler than everyone else.
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

International TravelingMom Kaamna Bhojwani-Dhawan prefers Virgin America. Given that she is used to flying the much-nicer international airlines of the type that made the Skytrax list, her recommendation carries a lot of weight.  She has found that Virgin American “generally has its processes sorted out” and “the planes are newer and the staff is not as disgruntled.” As a San Francisco Bay Area based flyer, I also fly Virgin America on a regular basis and agree that the newer planes and younger, hipper airline attitude and decor are all appealing.

GoodNCrazy TravelingMom Carissa Rogers jumped to the defense of United: “United has been our family’s go to airline for more than 7 years. For a long time, that was out of desperation as it was the only airline flying out of our tiny airport in rural Oregon. But even after moving to Charlotte where American is the main airline at Douglas, we still find the best prices and perks available on United over American.”

Finally, I would be remiss as Frequent Flyer TravelingMom if I didn’t mention Alaska Airlines, which many American flyers don’t get the chance to experience due to its regional focus. For those of us who live up and down the West Coast, Alaska is beloved for its personal service and for its flexible frequent flyer program. Plus, it serves a number of bucket list destinations like Alaska and Hawaii so you can’t help but be happy when you board an Alaska Airlines plane.

Do you agree with our rankings? Did your favorite U.S. airline miss making the list?

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