Which airline ranks the best among customers?

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - The peak travel season has begun, bringing with it crowded planes and higher fares. Consumer Reports has just released its latest airline ratings. They're based on input from more than 16,000 subscribers and the list of complaints is long, indeed.

Customers offer complain about cramped seating, poor customer service and baggage fees. Fees for checked baggage and limited legroom are among the many gripes subscribers expressed in Consumer Reports' Airlines Ratings survey.

"A full third of survey respondents complained about crowded flights. And a quarter complained about cramped seats," Karen Jaffe, of Consumer Reports, said.

No-frills Spirit airlines came in last in the ratings, hitting rock bottom on all of the customer benchmarks, including seating comfort, cabin staff service, cleanliness, and baggage handling.
United Airlines, U.S. Airways, and American did slightly better overall, but like Spirit, they got low scores for cleanliness and legroom.

"There are airlines out there where you can have a more comfortable flying experience. They just may not fly everywhere you'd like to go," Jaffe said.

In the ratings of eleven airlines, the highest overall score went to Virgin America, a separate company from Virgin Atlantic. Southwest scored high in customer satisfaction, too, as did JetBlue. Both airlines charge relatively few fees, but JetBlue did better for cleanliness and seating comfort.

Some airlines have responded to passengers' frustration over fees by "bundling" services together - for a fee, of course. A bundle might include preferred seating, free checked baggage, and free flight changes. But Consumer Reports says make sure you'll use all the benefits, otherwise paying la carte fees might be cheaper.