Travel + Leisure names ‘Top 5 US airlines’

Well-regarded travel publication Travel + Leisure Magazine has just released its list of the top 5 U.S. airlines. If you follow the plethora of "Best of" lists, the results will come as no surprise.

Every year, the magazine asks its readers to weigh in on travel experiences in a variety of categories including hotels, resorts, cruise ships, airlines, and more. In the airlines category, readers rated carriers on cabin comfort, service, food, customer service, and value.

In the survey released July 11, T+L’s readers ranked Virgin America the No. 1 domestic airline, a spot is has held for the past 10 years. Readers cited a number of attributes identified in other surveys, including wider seats and more legroom, mood lighting and excellent customer service. As one reader put it, “It has style and it’s fun,” according to T+L’s website.

Virgin America scored 84.61 of a possible 100 points in the ratings. While some readers fear the dilution of those attributes now that the carrier has been acquired by Alaska Air Group (NYSE:ALK), others noted that the jury is still out and are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Second behind Virgin America was jetBlue (NASDAQ:JBLU). With a score of 80.59 points, it continues to win accolades for its Mint premium cabin service. One T+L reader also cited how the airline “goes the extra mile for passengers with food allergies by serving nut-free and gluten-free choices. A serious plus when you travel with children,” the publication noted.

Virgin America’s sister carrier, Alaska Airlines, was No. 3 with 78.98 points.

“Alaska Airlines’ increasing popularity is owed in large part to a great loyalty program and an expanding flight network,” the magazine noted. It was followed by Hawaiian Airlines (NYSE:HA) with a score of 78.55, and Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) at No. 5, with 77.35 points.

Hawaiian Airlines and Southwest consistently earn high ratings for their frequent-flier programs and excellent in-flight service. Hawaiian, for example, still provides complimentary meals in flight. Southwest earned kudos for its value, flexibility and lack of á la carte charges.

Read Travel + Leisure’s complete article here.

The magazine also ranked the World's Top 100 Hotels. You can read that complete article here.

One of TheTravelPro's favorite (or perhaps I should say "favourite") hotels, The Magnolia in Victoria, B.C., was named the No. 1 City Hotel in Canada. It is celebrating by offering a special Celebration Package that includes two nights luxury accommodation, a bottle of Prosecco, breakfast for two and a $50 credit to spend in the hotel. That package is available for stays through September 24 but must be booked by July 19.

My take

All "Best of" lists are, to one degree or another, subjective. Still, I believe they have value in a number of areas.

First, they allow travelers to see how other travelers rank various carriers, which is especially enlightening when viewed through the prism of one's own experiences with a given carrier or hotel property. If a traveler has an especially poor experience on a well-rated provider, or an outstanding experience on one with a so-so rating, it is quite possible that those experiences were the exception rather than the rule.

Second, and specific to the airline ratings, while the rankings may vary somewhat from survey to survey, the same several carriers usually occupy the top and bottom spots. For example, passengers who voted in the 2017 SKYTRAX World Airline Awards voted Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) the No. 1 U.S. carrier, followed by Alaska, jetBlue, Virgin America and Southwest. That four of the five airlines in the T+L survey were also accorded accolades in another independent survey serves as confirmation that the are all generally well thought of.

One could argue that the U.S. airline industry has become so consolidated that such comparisons lose much of their value. My counterpoint is that many, though not all, of the country's smaller carriers fairly consistently outrank the Big Three legacy airlines. There is a lesson here, if only they would hear it...

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Photo by Carl Dombek
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