U.S. Airlines Fare Poorly in World Rankings

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Off the Radar

The past 18 months have been turbulent for airlines, which saw business plummet thanks to the pandemic. But which have fared best during hard times? According to the Skytrax Passenger Choice Awards, a customer survey that ran from September 2019 through July 2021, one answer is clear: America's airlines have little to crow about. In fact, three of the nation's largest carriers were shut out entirely. Read on to find out how your favorite — or least favorite — did. 

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delta airlines
Boarding1Now / istockphoto

Delta Airlines

2021 ranking: 30 

2019 ranking: 41

America's highest-ranked carrier, Delta, barely cracks the world's top 30, but that's an improvement from 2019. Delta also takes home four category awards: Best Airline in North America, Best Premium Economy Class Seat, Best Business Class in North America, and Best Premium Economy Class in North America. It also gets a nod for COVID-19 Airline Excellence, a special category judged on factors including cleaning standards, masking, and distancing. 

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2021 ranking: 32

2019 ranking: 40 

JetBlue also rose several spots this year. It earns kudos as the Best Regional Airline in North America and the Best Regional Airline in the U.S. 

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Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines

2021 ranking: 39

2019 ranking: 47

Southwest managed to claw its way into the top 40 this year, and it notches awards for Best Low-Cost Airline in North America and Best Low-Cost Airline in the U.S.

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United Airlines

United Airlines

2021 ranking: 60

2019 ranking: 68

United, which has been trying to distance itself from the persistent PR nightmares of a few years ago, climbs eight places. It also earns a couple of category awards: Best Business Class Lounge in the U.S. and COVID-19 Airline Excellence.

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Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines

2021 ranking: 61

2019 ranking: 54

Alaska Airlines drops seven spots in this year's world rankings, and it isn't singled out as the best in any particular category. 

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Hawaiian Airlines
rypson / istockphoto
American Airlines
Markus Mainka/shutterstock

American Airlines

2021 ranking: 76

2019 ranking: 74

American drops two spots this year and fares the worst of any of the U.S. legacy carriers. It does manage a nod for COVID-19 Airline Excellence.

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American Eagle Embraer ERJ-145 airplane at New York JFK
Lukas Wunderlich/istockphoto

American Eagle

2021 ranking: 91

2019 ranking: 84

American's regional network of carriers, American Eagle, also drops in this year's rankings.

Budget Airlines

Shut Out of the Top 100

Three of America's biggest airlines don't crack the top 100 at all. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all are budget carriers:

  • Allegiant

  • Frontier

  • Spirit 

787 dreamliner
Martin Chavez/istockphoto

The World's Top Airlines

So America's airlines were nowhere near the best in the world — which carriers did prevail? Carriers based in Asia and the Middle East dominate the top 10.

Air France Airbus A380

10. Air France

2019 ranking: 23

Air France, which vaults 13 places into the top 10 this year, was named the best airline in France, Western Europe, and all of Europe. It also gets a nod for COVID-19 Airline Excellence. 

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Hainan Airlines aircraft landing at Shanghai

9. Hainan Airlines

2019 ranking: 7

Voted China's best airline, Hainan also receives awards for Best Airline Staff in China and Best Business Class in China. Like Air France, it is also awarded for COVID-19 Airline Excellence.

QANTAS 737 taxiing into Sydney

8. Qantas Airways

2019 ranking: 8

Qantas is judged the Best Airline in Australia and the Pacific, and it also wins the award for Best Airline Staff in Australia and the Pacific.

EVA Air Cargo jumbo jet departing.
Angel Di Bilio/istockphoto

7. EVA Air

2019 ranking: 6

Based in Taiwan, EVA doesn't net any category awards, but it does place in the top 10 worldwide for Best Cabin Staff and Cleanest Cabin.

Cathay Pacific Airways

6. Cathay Pacific

2019 ranking: 4

Hong Kong's flag carrier drops a couple of spots this year, but wins an award for Best Business Class Lounge in Asia as well as COVID-19 Airline Excellence.

Japan Airlines Boeing 777-200 airplane

5. Japan Airlines

2019 ranking: 11 

Japan Airlines rises an impressive six spots this year, and takes home several category awards: World's Best Economy Class, Best Economy Class Airline Seat, Best Economy Class in Asia, and COVID-19 Airline Excellence.

Emirates cabin crew in economy class

4. Emirates

2019 ranking: 5

This famously luxurious Middle Eastern airline also earns awards for World's Best Airline Inflight Entertainment, Best First Class in the Middle East, and COVID-19 Airline Excellence. 

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Airplane  at Kagoshima, Japan  airport with Shinmoedake volcano erupting

3. ANA (All Nippon)

2019 ranking: 3

Holding steady in third place, Japanese carrier ANA is singled out for the World's Best Airline Cabin Cleanliness, World's Best Airport Services, Best Airline Staff in Asia, Best First Class Lounge in Asia, and COVID-19 Airline Excellence.

Singapore Airlines First Class Suites

2. Singapore Airlines

2019 ranking: 2

Singapore Airlines racks up a long list of awards to go with its overall second-place finish: World's Best Airline Cabin Staff, Best Airline in Asia, World's Best First Class, World's Best First Class Seat, Best Economy Class Onboard Catering, and COVID-19 Airline Experience.

Airbus A350 cabin

1. Qatar Airlines

2019 ranking: 1

Qatar Airlines is no stranger to the world's No. 1 spot, having won Airline of the Year six times since 2011. It's also singled out as Best Airline in the Middle East and receives a nod for World's Best Business Class, World's Best Business Class Seat, World's Best Business Class Airline Lounge, Best Business Class Onboard Catering, and COVID-19 Airline Excellence. 

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