According to a March 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, American flyers really, really like Southwest.
The popular low-cost airline had the fewest complaints for March 2015 overall, at just 0.46 complaints for every 100,000 passengers. Flyers were similarly happy with JetBlue (who only received about 1.20 complaints per 100,000 passengers).
That's no surprise: Both Southwest and JetBlue ranked high in a recent list of the Best Budget Airlines in the United States. Southwest flyers love the free checked bags (where two come standard). And unsurprisingly, JetBlue was number four on a recent list of the overall Best Airlines in the United States. While JetBlue will soon be instituting bag fees, their weekly sales and popular routes still entice flyers. It seems that, on these two carriers, low fares don't necessarily come at the cost of flyer comfort or on-time flights.
The DOT noted that airline complaints are on the rise, with more flyers complaining to the feds than in previous months or in March 2014. As passengers feel squeezed by high prices, additional fees, and overfilled flights, they are reporting their discontent to the government. But interestingly, with Southwest and JetBlue ranking high, it's not all budget airlines catching heat for their practices.
However, the DOT reported that another budget carrier, Frontier, received the most complaints from U.S. passengers: about 15.84 complaints for every 100,000 flyers. This is a sharp increase for Frontier, for whom the DOT received only 22 total complaints, or about 2.52 for every 100,000 flyers, in March 2014.
What's the cause of the sudden uptick? According to the report, a combination of delays, cancellations, and bad customer service sank Frontier's approval ratings.
Hot on Frontier's heels is Spirit Airlines. With 10.27 for every 100,000 flyers, this other low-cost carrier was the second most complained about airline. An oft-cited complaint for the budget-friendly carrier? "Incorrect or incomplete information about fares, discount fare conditions and availability, overcharges, fare increases and level of fares in general."
Promisingly, Frontier has noted that consumer complaints for May are already decreasing. So while the DOT isn't required to penalize airlines based on the results of their reports, the airlines are be listening anyway.
Here are the airlines, ranked in order from the fewest number of complaints to the most:
1. Southwest Airlines (0.46)*
2. Alaska Airlines (0.56)
3. SkyWest Airlines (0.56)
4. ExpressJet Airlines (0.63)
5. Delta Air Lines (0.68)
6. Virgin America (1.05)
7. JetBlue Airlines (1.20)
8. Hawaiian Airlines (1.50)
9. Envoy Air (1.95)
10. United Airlines (2.36)
11. US/American Airlines (3.72)
12. Spirit Airlines (10.27)
13. Frontier Airlines (15.84)
_* Number of complaints per 100,000 passengers
Want to learn how to get out of paying the most annoying airline fees? Check out How to Avoid Fees When Flying Low-Cost Airlines for Hopper's best tips.