In the incredibly competitive world of air travel, the airlines that win our hearts (and our loyalty) are those that are reliable, have personality, and strive to impress.
To travelers, that may mean regional and artisanal snacks, in-flight entertainment that actually keeps you occupied, or stellar customer service.
Every year for the World’s Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise lines, spas, airlines, and more. In the airlines category, readers rated carriers on cabin comfort, service, food, customer service, and value.
The domestic carriers that do this best are continuing to perfect their formula. Many of this year’s World’s Best airlines also ranked high on last year’s list.
Top marks in all of the characteristics helped buoy the winners above even the legacy carriers.
After all, Southwest Airlines has charmed frequent fliers with its generosity (two free checked bags, no fees for changed or canceled flights) and a killer rewards program.
We could wax poetic about the ultra-valuable Companion Pass for decades.
Hawaiian Airlines, meanwhile, has announced big plans to give every passenger a good night’s sleep, with new lie-flat seats in the premium cabins and toiletries with soothing tropical scents.
JetBlue Airways, another World’s Best Award–winning airline, loves to host flash sales and reward unsuspecting passengers (like the time they gave a 25 percent discount on future ticket purchases to mothers with crying babies).
Perhaps the biggest story this year is the purchase of Virgin America — a repeat No. 1 winner — by Alaska Airlines, which stepped up from No. 5 in 2015 to No. 4 in the 2016 survey. Both West Coast–based carriers have excellent on-time performance records (Virgin has been hailed as the best in the country) and pioneering tech: electronic bag tags, high-definition seatback entertainment, and soothing mood lighting.
Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin promises to please fans of both brands by expanding the network of routes and increasing opportunities to score miles.
The merger is certain to encourage other airlines to step up their game.
1. Virgin America
It’s been a big year for Virgin America, which has held on to its No. 1 position.
When Alaska Airlines announced in April that it intended to acquire the San Francisco–based carrier, fans fretted Virgin America would lose its personal feel.
We hope its best qualities live on: snack trolleys stocked with Hail Merry macaroons and amiable employees with a sense of humor. We also love their hilarious in-flight safety videos.
“Virgin America is just pure fun to fly,” said one WBA voter. “It’s the only airline I’ve ever flown where a captain has walked the aisles to greet passengers.”
2. JetBlue Airways
3. Hawaiian Airlines
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4. Alaska Airlines
5. Southwest Airlines