The best U.S. airline bumped nine passengers last year, while the worst bumped more than 15,000, according to The Wall Street Journal’s ranking.

By Lauren Phillips
Updated January 16, 2020

Booking a flight for work or for leisure—or for travel for family events, which could be considered a mix of the two—typically comes down to two factors: price and comfort. Ideally, the best airlines in the U.S. would offer both, but often getting a great price on a flight means flying on an airline that offers fewer perks or less legroom. Some people will pick reliability or plane comfort over price, but not everyone has that luxury.

If you are able to be a little choosy about which airlines you fly, though, here’s a great way to pick the best airlines in the U.S.: The Wall Street Journal’s annual airline scorecard. This report ranks the best airlines in 2019 on a number of service and comfort factors—on-time arrivals, canceled flights, extreme delays, 2-hour tarmac delays, mishandled baggage, involuntary bumping, and complaints. Price is not a factor in the WSJ analysis, so don’t consider this a ranking of the cheapest or most affordable airlines.

The report is based on 2019 data, but it’s logical to assume that flights that performed well over 12 or 10 months in 2019 will continue to offer the same service now; for more info on where The Wall Street Journal got its data, see the full article.

Delta Air Lines was ranked the best airline in the U.S. by the WSJ for the third year in a row. It was first for on-time arrivals, and had the fewest flight cancellations and involuntary bumping incidents, so while it ranked sixth for fewest number of two-hour tarmac delays and fourth for fewest mishandled baggage incidents, it still beat out the other airlines. As the article revealing the ranking points out, Delta involuntarily bumped nine passengers from its flights total over the most recent 12-month period reported, while American Airlines bumped more than 15,000 in the same period.

After Delta, Alaska Airlines and Southwest Airlines tied for second; both ranked well for extreme delays (meaning they had fewer than other airlines) and complaints, coming in second and first for fewest customer complaints, respectively. (Delta was third for complaints.)

The full ranking of the best airlines in the U.S. in 2019, listed best to worst according to the WSJ’s analysis, is as follows:

1. Delta

2. Alaska

3. Southwest

4. Allegiant

5. Spirit

6. JetBlue

7. Frontier

8. United

9. American

It’s worth noting that this ranking considers only major U.S. carriers in key operational areas. The article acknowledges that Hawaiian Airlines would have ranked first on the list if it had been included in the ranking, but it was not because a significant portion of its business consists of short hops between islands in an area that tends to have excellent weather. That said, if you are planning a trip for which Hawaiian Airlines is an option, it’s a good bet.

When researching flights and planning trips, picking an airline you trust over the cheapest option can cut down on travel-related mishaps and annoyances on your journey—whether that is worth the money is up to you. Whatever airline you book, do your best to check in for your flight on the early side and hang on to your patience: You’ll get there eventually.