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The best and worst airlines in the US for 2023, according to the WSJ

Taylor Rains   

The best and worst airlines in the US for 2023, according to the WSJ

The Wall Street Journal published its annual list of the best and worst carriers in the US for 2023, and Delta Air Lines once again took the crown for the top airline.

Delta ranked first in three of the seven evaluated metrics — on-time performance, complaints, and involuntary bumping (the latter tied with Allegiant Air).

The WSJ compiled data from aviation company Anuvu and the Department of Transportation.

In the WSJ ranking, Delta did not place lower than fifth in any of the other four categories, including flight cancellations, extreme delays greater than 45 minutes, baggage handling, and tarmac delays of at least two hours.

The carrier's on-time performance, which means arriving within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival, was 83% in 2023, the WSJ reported.

Meanwhile, the airline's low involuntary bump rate comes as no surprise, given its reputation for offering passengers thousands to give up their seats on an oversold flight.

Right on Delta's heels was its West Coast rival Alaska Airlines, which also ranked second in 2022 and 2021 and was the only other carrier to achieve a punctuality rating of at least 80%, according to the Journal. And it beat out Delta for cancelations and extreme delays.

However, the Seattle-based airline faltered in baggage handling, ranking seventh out of nine carriers — United Airlines being eighth, and American Airlines coming in dead last.

An Alaska spokesperson told the Journal that the carrier is implementing new tools and technology to improve this metric: "We are committed to improving our baggage performance and raising it to the level of reliability we offer in every other category of our operation," he said.

The Journal noted that the rankings do not include any impact from the aftermath of the Alaska 737 Max 9 door plug blowout that occurred in early January.

Gaining ground in 2023 was ultra-low-cost carrier Allegiant, which jumped from fifth to third last year. The airline won points for its low rate of flight cancellations, tarmac delays, mishandled baggage, and involuntarily bumping zero people.

Allegiant overtook Southwest Airlines, which ranked lower this year after its infamous winter meltdown in late 2022 and early 2023 caused passenger complaints and baggage mishaps to skyrocket. The Journal noted, however, that the issues did not cause Southwest to take a huge tumble, only falling one spot into fourth.

"We took lessons from the end of 2022 and made sure that 2023 was a year of progress," Southwest COO Andrew Watterson told the Journal.

American and United sat in the middle of the group, mostly losing points for cancelations, tarmac delays, and baggage mishaps. Spirit Airlines performed worse, ranking fifth or lower in every metric.

But at the bottom of the pack was once again JetBlue Airways. The airline has fallen behind low-cost competitors Frontier Airlines and Spirit for a third time since 2021, scoring last in baggage handling, punctuality, tarmac delays, extreme delays, and flight cancelations.

Its on-time performance was just 66.4%, according to the Journal, which is below the 77.6% industry average. This means a third of its 2023 flights arrived more than 15 minutes late — something the airline has attributed to staffing shortages, severe weather, and congested skies in and around New York City.

A Jetblue spokesperson told the Journal that a slot waiver at NYC airports, as well as adding more wiggle room between flights and investing in new technology to handle disruptions, will help the airline better control its operational performance.

"We have the highest level of exposure to New York of any airline, and that continues to make an apples-to-apples comparison with other carriers difficult," the spokesperson told the Journal.

Other last-place finishers were Frontier for customer complaints and involuntary bumping, and American for baggage handling, the WSJ data shows. Frontier still took seventh overall, beating JetBlue.

(The WSJ said it omitted Hawaiian Airlines from the rankings due to its regional focus.)

Here's a closer look at the best and worst airlines in the US for 2023 — and how they ranked in each category in the WSJ rankings:

9. JetBlue Airways

2022 Rank: 9

Coming in last for a third year in a row, JetBlue ranked ninth for on-time performance, cancelations, extreme delays, and tarmac delays.

The carrier came in sixth for mishandled baggage and complaints, and fourth for involuntary bumping.

8. Frontier Airlines

2022 Rank: 8

Frontier was the second-worst airline last year and ranked last for involuntary bumping and complaints.

The airline came in eighth for on-time arrivals and extreme delays, seventh for cancelations, sixth for tarmac delays, and third for mishandled bags.

7. Spirit Airlines

2022 Rank: 7

Spirit maintained its seventh-place spot for 2023 and did not rank last in any metric.

However, it came in eighth for complaints, seventh for on-time performance, involuntary bumping, and extreme delays, sixth for canceled flights, and fifth for tarmac delays and mishandled bags.

6. United Airlines

2022 Rank: 4

United took a tumble in 2023, falling two spots mostly due to its eighth-place finishes for cancelations, tarmac delays, and mishandled bags.

Meanwhile, it ranked fifth for extreme delays, fourth for punctuality and complaints, and third for involuntary bumping.

5. American Airlines

2022 Rank: 6

Sitting right in the middle of the pack was American, with its ninth-place rank for baggage handling weighing it down.

The airline came in eighth for bumping, seventh for tarmac delays, fourth for flight cancelations and extreme delays, and third for on-time arrivals and complaints.

4. Southwest Airlines

2022 Rank: 3

Despite its chaotic winter meltdown, Southwest came in first for tarmac delays, second for baggage handling, and third for cancelations and delays.

The airline faltered with complaints and involuntary bumping, coming in seventh and sixth, respectively. Southwest was fifth for on-time performance.

3. Allegiant Air

2022 Rank: 5

Allegiant moved to the front of the group in 2023, taking first for involuntary bumping and mishandled baggage.

Meanwhile, it was second for flight cancelations and tarmac delays, though it came fifth for complaints and sixth for on-time arrivals and extreme delays.

2. Alaska Airlines

2022 Rank: 2

Falling short of the first-place spot once again was Alaska, though it won in the flight cancelations and extreme delays categories.

Second-place finishes were for on-time arrivals and complaints. The airline came in third for tarmac delays, fifth for bumping, and seventh for baggage mishandling.

1. Delta Air Lines

2022 Rank: 1

Delta is the best airline in the US for 2023, according to The Wall Street Journal's ranking. It came in first for on-time performance, bumping, and complaints.

It was second for extreme delays, fourth for tarmac delays and mishandled baggage, and fifth for flight cancelations — its lowest finish overall.

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