- Virgin America
The leading consumer aviation website Skytrax published its list of the 100 best airlines in the world on Tuesday.
Dubai’s Emirates took the top spot for the fourth time since 2001.
In fact, a Middle Eastern airline has won five of the last six years.
And once again, none of America’s airlines even come close to the top of the list.
Even though Virgin America was named the best airline in North America for a second consecutive year, the San Francisco-based low-cost carrier could only muster a 25th-place finish in the overall rankings.
At the same time, the country’s three legacy carriers – Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and American Airlines – finished in 35th, 68th, and 77th, respectively.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Since 2014, most major US airlines have climbed steadily in the Skytrax rankings.
- Virgin America
The Skytrax rankings are based on the impressions of 19.2 million travelers from 104 different countries collected over the past year. The survey, which covered more than 280 airlines, measured 41 factors, ranging from boarding procedures to seat comfort to the quality of service.
Over the past three years, survey results show that many of America’s airlines have taken dramatic steps forward. Since 2014, Virgin America has made the biggest jump in the rankings with a 21-spot improvement. However, Hawaiian Airlines, Delta, and American have also shown impressive improvement by moving up 16, 14, and 12 spots, respectively.
At the same time, JetBlue Airways jumped six spots, Alaska Airlines improved nine spots, and Southwest Airlines gained five.
So what’s changed?
Over the past three years, US airlines have recovered from their near-death experience during the great recession. With lower fuel prices and greater management discipline, airlines have begun to restore services and amenities cut during the lean years of the recession. Free snacks, drinks, and in-flight entertainment have all been introduced on board domestic and international flights.
In addition, America’s major airlines are currently engaged in a massive round of fleet renewals that would see older jets replaced with modern, more fuel-efficient planes.
At the same time, not everything is perfect. The reviled baggage and service fees are here to stay. Although bathed in pleasant mood-lighting, the new-generation interiors of many major US airlines also feature highly uncomfortable slimline seats. In addition, lavatories have shrunk to make way for extra passenger capacity.
The only major US carrier to move down in the Skytrax rankings over the past few years has been United. Since 2014, the Chicago-based airline has fallen from 53rd to 68th.
Much of this can be attributed to United’s turbulent 2010 merger with Continental. Management struggled to integrate the newly formed airline. For many years, the merged United essentially operated as two separate airlines under a single brand name. To this day, more than half a decade after the merger, some parts of the United-Continental operation are still not fully integrated.
Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America for $2.6 billion in April. It is unclear what will become of the award-winning brand. Many industry analysts believe Alaska will retire the Virgin America name over the next year or two. However, Alaska CEO Brad Tilden indicated in June that his company may keep the stylish brand around after the merger is complete.