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U.S. Airlines With the Best & Worst Customer Service [2020-2021 Data Study]

Alex Miller's image
Alex Miller
Alex Miller's image

Alex Miller

Founder & CEO

296 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 34U.S. States Visited: 29

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

35 Published Articles 3213 Edited Articles

Countries Visited: 47U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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As travel is beginning to boom again, airlines have run into snags caused by labor shortages, vaccine and mask mandates, weather, and other various factors. This inspired us to look into which airlines have the best and worst customer service (using data available from 2020-2021) so that you’ll have the highest chance of smooth travel the next time you’re catching a flight. We’ve put together this study by comparing monthly averages for complaints, on-time arrivals, canceled flights, and mishandled baggage by airline.

U.S. Airlines Ranked Overall for Customer Service

US Airlines Ranked Overall for Customer Service
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

Delta led the pack in overall airline customer service scores, as Endeavor Air, a subsidiary of Delta, placed first with a score of 83.94, and Delta itself placed second with a score of 75.77.

The worst, however, was Frontier Airlines, finishing with an overall score of 29.06. We’ll touch more on how Frontier managed to finish that low later on.

U.S. Airlines With the Highest Percentage of On-time Arrivals

US Airlines Ontime Arrivals
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

For on-time arrival percentage, Delta once again leads the charge, taking both first and second place after accounting for Endeavor.

Allegiant, on the other hand, leads the charge in the other direction, finishing with over 17 fewer percentage points than Endeavor. JetBlue is another airline you probably want to avoid if you’re a stickler for punctuality or have a connecting flight, as its score in this category is not even a full percentage point better than Allegiant’s.

U.S. Airlines With the Highest Percentage of Canceled Flights

US airlines highest chance of cancellations
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

Another category, another Delta lead, as both Delta and Endeavor come in first and second, respectively, in lowest percentage of canceled flights.

The worst airline for canceled flights is actually Hawaiian, which has just over a 40% higher cancel rate than the second-worst airline for canceled flights, Mesa Airlines.

American’s Envoy Air ranks third, and familiar face Allegiant ranks fourth, but once you hit fifth place Republic Airways and lower, you’re in the approximately 2% range, which is actually the average cancellation percentage of all the airlines here. Knowing that does make Delta’s 0.65% and Endeavor’s 0.68% all the more impressive, however.

U.S. Airlines With the Most Mishandled Baggage

US Airlines Most Mishandled Baggage
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

No one mishandles bags like American, which is present in every single one of the top 5 spots here. In fact, American mishandles approximately 30,262 bags per month, or about 7.37 bags per every 1,000. If you lump American in with Envoy and PSA? That number reaches 39,704, or 6.66 bags per every 1,000.

Meanwhile, the best airline here is actually Allegiant, which seems to be very volatile as it placed dead last just 2 categories ago (on-time arrivals).

Customer Complaints by U.S. Airline

Customer Complaints by US Airline
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

Now you might recall Frontier having the worst overall score when we covered those earlier, but might have also noticed that it hasn’t placed in last, or even second to last, in any category yet. Well, this discrepancy disappears when you see Frontier’s horrendous monthly complaint numbers.

With 0.7 monthly complaints for every 10,000 passengers, Frontier almost doubles the fourth place JetBlue Airlines (0.39 monthly complaints for every 10,000 passengers) — and that’s just the difference between first and fourth. Compare Frontier to any of the top seven airlines in this category, and you’ll see a difference of anywhere from 11.66 times to 23.33 times.

Airlines With the Most Complaints (By Category)

US Airlines Most Complaints by Category
Image Credit: Upgraded Points

There are 2 percentages in this graphic that are vastly higher than any of the others: Mesa’s 65.52% flight problem complaint rate (cancellations, delays, or any other deviations from schedule, whether planned or unplanned) and Hawaiian’s 76.89% refund complaint rate (problems in obtaining refunds for unused or lost tickets, fare adjustments, or bankruptcies). Considering that the next biggest percentages don’t even cross the 20% mark, these are numbers that are hard to ignore.

Another interesting thing to note is Delta’s Endeavor Air having a higher percentage of its complaints connected to bad customer service than any other airline, yet its overall customer service score was higher than any other airline’s. Perhaps, along with canceled flights, this is just another weak spot in an otherwise highly-rated airline.

Methodology

This study looked at the Department of Transportation’s Office of Aviation Consumer Protection’s Air Travel Consumer Reports from July 2020 through September 2021 to identify monthly averages for complaints, on-time arrivals, canceled flights, and mishandled baggage. We gave airlines a score of 0-10 for each factor, with 10 being the best possible score and zero being the worst possible score. Each factor’s 0-10 rating was weighted, then all of the individual, weighted factor ratings were averaged together to create a total overall score for each airline.

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Ranking Factors Template (For Overall Score)Weight
Average Percent of On-Time Arrivals3.0
Average Flights Canceled2.5
Average Bags Mishandled per 1,000 Bags1.0
Average Monthly Complaints per 10,000 Passengers3.5

Final Thoughts

Delta and Delta’s Endeavor Air currently rule the skies while Frontier falls flat (thanks in particular to its rate of customer complaints).

Allegiant, JetBlue, and Mesa are also some of the worst airlines in the U.S. from a customer service perspective, especially if flight punctuality specifically is important to you or your trip.

For more informative airline studies, see some of our previous studies such as which airline was most likely to bump you or which U.S. airport was most likely to have the longest TSA wait times. We also run this same study on the best and worst customer service using 2018-2019 data.

Alex Miller's image

About Alex Miller

Founder and CEO of Upgraded Points, Alex is a leader in the industry and has earned and redeemed millions of points and miles. He frequently discusses the award travel industry with CNBC, Fox Business, The New York Times, and more.

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