Virgin America and Southwest Top Zagat Survey

Posted Nov 29th 2010 09:22 AMUpdated Nov 29th 2010 09:40 AM


Air Travelers have praise for Virgin America and Southwest but are generally dissatisfied with airlines, objecting to baggage fees, high fares and indirect routes, according to a new survey by Zagat.

The 8,000 frequent flyers participating in the annual poll named Virgin America the top carrier overall for its coach and premium classes on both domestic and international routes.

Southwest was first in categories including Best Check-in Experience, as well as Best Luggage Policy, Best Consumer On-Time Estimates, Top Website and Best Value among domestic airlines.

For the third year in a row, Continental gets props for its domestic premium class. JetBlue takes top honors among large economy class carriers.

Perhaps a sign of economic recovery, respondents report taking more flights in 2010 than in the past few years, with an average of 17.4 flights, up from 16.6 in 2009 and 16.3 in 2008.

But that doesn't mean the frequent flyers are happy campers. Zagat, which has reviewed the airline industry since 1990, notes that in recent years "most major airlines' ratings have dropped precipitously."

Each airline is rated on a 30-point scale, and even at the top Virgin America is only rated 21 for its economy service and 24 for premium class.

When asked how they react to fees for checked luggage, 45% of respondents say they try to avoid flying such airlines; 42% say they have frequent flyer status on an airline that waves luggage fees; 33% say they travel only with a carry-on and 18% grudgingly opt to pay the fees.

"While fliers are slowly but surely returning to the skies, they remain focused on good values and reliable service," said Tim Zagat, CEO of Zagat Survey. "Airlines like Virgin America, Southwest, JetBlue and Continental score well with surveyors for precisely this reason."

International carriers continue to outperform the U.S. airlines. Singapore Airlines, the perennial winner, earned an impressive 28 rating for international premium class airlines and 24 for international economy service.

When choosing flights, respondents say their main consideration is direct routes (65%) followed by ticket price (55%).

The survey also looks at 30 major U.S. airports. Respondents rate Portland International as their favorite airport based on overall quality. Consistently coming in last place since 2007, is New York's LaGuardia Airport.

In other findings, Zagat says in-flight entertainment has become increasingly important to air travelers. For the third year in a row, JetBlue (domestic) and Virgin Atlantic (international) win for "Best In-Flight Entertainment.

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I absolutely love Southwest. Amazing customer service in person and on the phone. They have this great phone system where instead of putting you on hold for an hour, you put in your number and they call you back when they can talk to you. Works every time. Best fares for where I need to fly, you can cancel your flight and get a credit and incur absolutely no fees. It's wonderful. They really know how to treat people. Checking in is great, super friendly on-board, and I can fly with my two little dogs for the cheapest fee of all the airlines. And if my tickets get cheaper before I fly, I can get the difference back as a credit for a future flight, and can do it myself online. Super easy website. No domestic American airline can touch them. Not even close.

November 30 2010 at 1:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pat Robinson

LUV SWA . I will recommend Southwest to all who fly anywhere.............Service 5 Star in all areas. They are the one airline that makes me feel appreciated as a customer and not just another oportunity no have their hand in my pocket grabbing my hard earned money. YES , I can fly with others, but I prefer SWA.

Plus..........they sometimes sing to me.....................and then say thank you...WOW

Pat, Haddon Twp., NJ

November 29 2010 at 10:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is all good to know and I agree with the findings, from my own experience. But what I'm more interested in knowing is: How much of an impact is the over-the-line "safety" screenings (body scans and rub-downs) going to affect the number of people traveling by plane? I am debating canceling my Christmas trip to see family, just because of that. It is a huge personal violation, and an abuse of the Citizenry of this nation.

November 29 2010 at 9:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love virgin america Http:// they are the best airline and they are priced right.

November 29 2010 at 8:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply