New Data: The 10 Worst Airlines in the US

“I see you. I’ll get your water when I have a minute. Jesus Christ.”

Um, did… that… really just happen?

Strike three for Delta Airlines. More like strike 37. The bad service had reached the “Orbitz threshold”, where I would no longer purchase tickets from Delta, even if cheaper than the competition.

Life is too short to deal with surly nonsense, and — upon landing back in SF — I decided to poll Twitter to find out which airlines create the most collective misery. This would serve as my must-avoid list.

I also learned that two start-ups called PeopleBrowsr and Dolores Labs were simultaneously figuring out the same thing with really cool social search analysis.

Here are the results: the 10 worst airlines in the US according to customers…

Twitter + Slinkset

I used Twitter to drive people to a customized Digg-like page for the worst airlines, where companies were submitted and then voted up and down. Cast your vote here.

#1 – The Worst – Delta

Also submitted as “Delta Blows”, Delta get the ultimate F- for customer service, especially when you include the votes for Northwest Airlines (NWA) below, which they’ve absorbed into twin forces of suckiness. Bad customer service earned the Delta empire more than 30% of the total votes.

#2 – US Airways

#3 – United

#4 – American

#5 – AirTran

#6 – Northwest

#7 – Southwest

#8 – Frontier

#9 – Continental

#10 – Air France (?)

See the exact percentages here.

Of course, there are limits and weaknesses to this data-gathering approach: the availability heuristic. In other words, as commenter John Fawkes observed: are the “worst” airlines just the most commonly flown? Would we also find them at the top of the “best” list?

To make this methodology work, it seems you would have to also run a “best airlines” poll using the same method, and compare the two lists. If an airline is on the worst list and not the best list, then and only then should you declare that popular opinion has voted it down.

The data published below via Dolores Labs accounts for size differences, and their full post includes observations on the best airlines based on sentiment in tweets.

Dolores Labs

Dolores Labs — think Amazon Mechanical Turk on steroids — published the PeopleBrowsr results in beautiful graphic form. The best and worst airlines were determined through frequency analysis of positive and negative sentiment words in tweets mentioning the airlines.

Here are the worst, in descending order of Hulk-smash feelings:

#1 – The Worst – Northwest (= Delta)

#2 – US Airways

#3 – Delta

#4 – American

#5 – United

[Note that the top 5 are the same as the top 4 in the comparable Twitter poll]

#6 – Continental

#7 – Frontier

#8 – JetBlue

#9 – Alaska

#10 – Southwest (by far the best large airline, based on this analysis)

So what are ‘negative sentiment’ words? Here are a few you might have muttered yourself:

See the full Dolores Labs results and insight here. Damn, them boys have some skills with making data sexy. Check out their Fleshmap from crowdsourced sex input. But I digress…

The moral of the story? Drop the extra $30 on tickets so you don’t feel like doing this to fools:


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I recently partnered with Rolf to release the exclusive audiobook for Vagabonding. For more on this incredible book, click here.

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151 Replies to “New Data: The 10 Worst Airlines in the US”

  1. While I know airlines in general are not strongholds of customer service, I am surprised that Delta has deteriorated so much. I used to do telephone interviews for them and their screening requirements for customer care instincts were TOUGH. I had to fail even the nicest people sometimes because of the smallest hint of bad grammar, unprofessional ideas, or a momentary, joking lapse of displaying customer focus.


  2. Haha nice article – it certainly doesn’t help that the poor state of the economy is forcing airlines to cut costs, thus sacrificing our safety &convenience.

    Did you use wordle to create your tag cloud?

  3. Doesn’t surprise me that Southwest is tops among the big airlines. When flying, the word cheap usually results in cramped, uncomfortable, rude, boring (no TV) travel.

    Love the Bruce Lee clip by the way!


  4. I travel a ton myself and have had bad experiences with every airline (doing out ORD-SFO-SYD this weekend on United). Wondering if the statistical data accounts for size of airline in relation to negative feedback. Should the best research account for numbers as a percentage, rather than volume of comments?

    1. Absolutely! Singapore Airlines… followed very closely by Air New Zealand… would have to be the ultimate benchmark of what ‘A First Class Airline’ should be.

      – Cabin Staff who are friendly, attentive and helpful without question

      – Modern aircraft that aren’t configured like a ‘can of sardines’

      – Ground Crew and Customer Services staff who truly understand the meaning of ‘Service’

      – An overall ‘Nothing is a Problem’ attitude, no matter where you happen to be on the planet!

      Bottom line though… if you insist on buying cheap tickets, then you get what you pay for and complaining is really a ‘mute’ point! It;s you’re own fault

  5. Hey Tim – this is great to know – I will be traveling to USA next year and was looking into booking some flights – now I know which oens to stear clear from!

    My best flight experience worldwide was with Malaysian Airlines – such friendly staff and know exactly how to look after you on thier long flights to Europe!

    It would be interesting to know what people are thinking of the airlines in Europe as well?

    / Nathan

    1. Nathan I know this is out of date to help you choose an airline to fly transatlantic but Lufthansa was voted the best intercontinental airline for 2011 for outstanding customer service and quality…I loathe Delta having been on the receiving end of so many bad experiences their complete lack of customer care has dished out! I will never fly Delta again! Am going to do my homework every time I fly and find an airline who understands that if your customers are unhappy one, one they will leave!

  6. That IS What I feel like doing when I’m frustrated on airlines 🙂

    Will definitely take this info into consideration when I book my flight to thailand!



  7. I don’t fly often, but I went from Montreal (Canada) to Guangzhou (China) last year on a Northwest Airline plane and I must say their service was A1. The staff was polite and helpful, and even the food was good. They exceeded my expectactions. Maybe I was lucky. If they rank among the worst, I cannot imagine what the best one are doing.

  8. Yes these airlines have definitely taken the fun out of air travel for me.

    My best airline experience across the pond was Heathrow to JFK on Air India. Sitting in coach I asked for a beer with the chicken curry dinner, and the flight attendant handed me three cans. When I told her one was fine, she said maybe I would get thirsty later. Great service all around.

  9. I’ll be the first one to say that service on domestic carriers has definitely declined, no dispute there.

    However, I don’t think it’s fair to say that those airlines have the worst service because they generate the most noise in social media. They serve the large majority of passengers and should generate more in terms of pure numbers. Compare those numbers to their passenger loads and I think you’ll get a different story.

  10. You should list these “sucky” airlines next to the list of the largest carriers in the United States. Otherwise, there is no baseline to compare your results too.

    Of course Delta, American, and United are going to see more poor reviews because of the shear volume of spoiled Americans that travel with those brands.

    We jet set all over the world in a matter of hours and yet we find reasons to nitpick. Tell you’re great grandfather how you go from New York to LA in 5 hours and he’ll tell you how he lost 2 siblings to cholera during his real life experience on the Oregon Trail.

    On the other hand, the airline industry is constantly plagued with ever diminishing margins to try and turn a profit. Therefore, customer service goes a long way and I agree that Delta can probably use a refresher course. However, I would put up with an ornery stewardess much better if I had more than 3.5 inches of leg room for my 6’2 frame.

    Maybe if they stop squeezing us like sardines into their flying machines we’ll stop complaining about the service. Are you listening, Continental?

    I hear they’re going to keep us standing up on short commuter flights and have us sit facing each other military style on longer trips to increase the amount of passengers by up to 50%.

    In the land of no legroom, the airline that doesn’t cause blood clots is king!

  11. lol, Bruce Lee rocks.

    Interesting analysis and wordle visualizations from the social search engines. The correlations look amusing.

    As for the crowdsourced sex input, I’ll take a closer look at the Skin to Skin visualizations and browse through the heat maps of data. Overall, this type of sex data is always pleasurable. Yeah, the back of a women’s neck is a sweet spot 🙂 .

  12. Considering all the airlines I have flown coach I can whole heartedly state that “they all suck” and that there are no exceptions to the rule unless you spend the big bucks to fly first class. It’s unfortunate, but its just the way it is at this period in time.

  13. I’m surprised Tim would publish such fantastical data. Ok, so maybe it got Delta right, but Southwest at #6?!?! Best airline of all-time. Twitter data must be bogus.

    Air-Asia is catching on and will soon be breaking into the US market fyi. It’s like a southwest without the song, but better food. And cheap.

    Be well all,


  14. Wow! Cool word visualisation!!

    I am definitely going to check peopleBrowsr! What a cool tool with lots of application this could have.

    Imagine you could build an automated contrarian stock investing based on twitter tweets, etc.

    ohohoh very exciting!! Need to do some more digging on that!

    Thanks for the great post

  15. Wow – I’ve flown with Delta a couple of times, and I’ve always had a positive experience. The cabin crew were incredibly helpful and pleasant, my flights were punctual, my seat was comfortable (regular ordinary class seating) and my food was as good as you can expect for any airplane food.

  16. I live in Charlotte. The two main airlines that fly out of Charlotte are:

    1. US Airways

    2. Delta

    And I agree both those airlines suck.

    One time I flew Delta I was connect through Atlanta (I hate the Atlanta airport). We were on a small plane so we didn’t have a jet way. We exit the plane and need to walk under these crappy tent like hallways to get into the terminal. Except they had the way we were supposed to go coned off. There were Delta people standing around who did nothing. Finally I had to move the cones and figure out the correct way back to the terminal (I was about the 15th person off the plane).

    When we get inside the terminal there is an escalator that leads from the flight deck up to the terminal level. I get on the escalator take one step on it and they turn it off. The Delta lady who did this at the top of the stairs doesn’t even say sorry just looks at us. Here’s to Delta.

  17. I agree with Dan’s comment above, and came to pose the same question before reading his. Are there any major airlines NOT included on this list?

    As an entertainer/illusionist, I travel full-time, so I hate bad airline service as much as the next guy. But I’m curious how this data would pan out if the study were performed again to gauge positive experiences and “wow” moments, instead of complaints.

  18. I rarely leave comments, but this is one of the funniest blog posts I’ve seen. I was flying on Hawaiian Airlines a few weeks ago, and when I asked for a bottle of water so they didn’t have to keep coming to my seat they straight up said no. Awesome!

  19. I’d have to go with United. All four of my last flights on United resulted in either lost baggage (twice) or non-weather related canceled flights (twice).

    “Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, shame on me.” What is the saying for shaming me four times? On second thought, I don’t want to know. Needless to say I will not be flying United anytime soon….

    But nothing is as bad as the twin prop flight in Costa Rica where the pilots thought it would be funny to mess with the tourists by dropping hundreds of feet in seconds on purpose all while faux screaming…I will forever be scarred by the incident – but it is kind of funny, now…


  20. I’m a big fan of the European low cost airline model such as EasyJet or Ryanair.

    No offense to some more seasoned readers, but the low cost airlines have a much younger flight attendant crew that is a bit more energetic and fun. The US carriers usually have an older, less energetic crew, a bit more motherly acting and sometimes moody as well.

    Adrian – I haven’t heard of Air Asia yet, but just briefly taking a look at their website you immediately see four good looking young flight attendants having fun. Of course it’s marketing, but I’m sure the actual flights are similar. Totally different feel than the US carrier experience.

  21. Totally agree on Delta. Coming back from Costa Rica this summer with a mission team, our departure was delayed almost 2 hours because the flight attendants had been out late and were tired. Over half my team missed their connection in ATL and got home up to 6 hours later. Bruce Lee has it right, should have roundhoused someone right there on the tarmac.

  22. While flying US Airways Shuttle last month I noticed that embedded deep in the fine print of the US Airways magazine was language that seemed to indicate free drinks for first class AND US Airways shuttle passengers. We ordered beers, and were not charged.

    You may want to ask first, but the flight attendant did look worried when she served the beer and people noticed no money changed hands. Would all of these grumpy people want free beer?

    Again, you may want to ask first to be sure, but after paying to check a bag, a free drink or two seems to make the flight a little more tolerable.

  23. I absolutely agree with Delta/NWA being the worst. I fly over 100k annually with them and they are terrible. I am young looking guy. I don’t usually wear a suit when I travel. Sometimes I even look scruffy I suppose. But I nearly always am in first class. However, when boarding I have been ignored multiple times. Literally standing right there and the gate agent takes someone else’s pass and lets them board before me. It was so blatant one time the guy in front of my actually said something to the gate agent.

    I think Alaska/Horizon have the best service consistently.

  24. Honestly the worst airline, is the one you are on. We should have let them go out of business back in the bailout days, so perhaps they’d learn their lesson, or better yet be replaced with better airlines.

  25. I’d like to see a comparable study of the best airlines too. The Wordle visualization of that would be nice to see. I’d be curious about which airlines overlap both categories; Adrian’s comment above saying Southwest is great conflicts directly with my awful experiences with Southwest.

  26. I love the power the internet and social media has given us individuals to collectively voice our opinions. We consumers have voted for a long time with our wallets that we demand lower prices over service. I believe that in this new economy, where consumers are more selective where they spend their hard earned money, that we can now demand reasonable prices and great service.

    I agree Tim, that time is too short to put up with the terrible service that most big dumb companies offer, and I also would prefer to spend a little more money to be treated better. The problem is that many of even the more expensive products still have very bad service, but I hope that better customer service will be the benefit we get from the companies that survive the recession.

  27. Agree with Allen and Dan,

    I wouldn’t hesitate to guess that the worst airlines above are the ones most frequently traveled. And the more you fly, the more chances you have a bad incident.

    Would be interesting to see related statistics of worst airline by travel volume.

  28. Southwest was charging us $200 to rebook our vacation because it counts as a cancellation. Regardless, the price of their vacation package was just too good so I can’t blame them.

    I’d say you get what you pay for, but maybe that doesn’t apply to airlines.

  29. LOL… Did you really ask for a water on an airplane? You can’t do that, that’s like asking for a bomb in the middle of the desert…. oh wait…. I think I might have mixed it up…

    Looking at the chart there seems to be a negative corelation between airline size and quality. SouthWest being the obvious exception. That’s interesting, but not very surprising.

    While interesting, whitout knowing the sample size and the conditions the survey was made, we can’t make any more conclusions.

    A good customer service is critical towards building customer loyalty and trust.

    So much focus goes on pricing (especialy in recession time) trying to make it as cheap as possible to gain a few more customers and get a prettier report by the end of the year.

    That’s not always the best course of action, more is not always better.

    With decreasing profit per customer the next course of action is to reduce the cost per customer and customer service is usually one of the first to go out the window.

    The irony being, that the most loyal customers and the ones that give the most profit per customer (inside their own class) are usually the ones that will resent the most.

    In the end, there a few conclusions to make.

    First, if you want it cheap, sometime you’ll get it cheap.

    Second, companies that offer distinguished customer service, already have a factor that distinguishes them from the competition.

    Third, in some areas, Customer Service is more important than others.

    Customer Service (CS) is a real bi***, many of the times your cheapest clients use up most of your resources in CS and while you may offer great CS all it takes is once. He will always remember that time…

    That’s just the way it is… bad experience sticks longer and stronger in peoples memories.

    I am wondering the sample size (uniquer users and amount of tweets) for the Dolores survey.

  30. This seems a very negative post from you Tim, I must say I am slightly disappointed.

    I agree that airlines can suck from time to time and you probably see alot more of them then most but you are too good at inspiring people that I don’t think that you need to stoop to a slating email, it doesn’t seem your style.

    Thats just my viewpoint though. You inspired me to quit my job and now I live an awesome life in Bangkok so I will always be forever grateful.

  31. @Jonny I don’t see this post as being negative. Rather it is a heads up on airlines to avoid. Personally, when I travel I really don’t care if an airline is ok or awesome. I’d like to know which airline is most likely going to lose my luggage or give me a bad experience.

    For me, Southwest has yet to disappoint.

    Thanks Tim

  32. Even the best airline in the world (Emirates?) is nothing compared to travel by sea. And you have far more interesting stories at the end of it. What’s the purpose of lifestyle management if not to *slow down* and really experience the journey?

  33. Delta charges $300 per surfboard, one-way, for international travel. $600 RT, and thats just one surfboard. You tell me who goes on an international surf trip and brings ONE surfboard.

    Delta could provide a free IV drip of cheap wine, xanax, and 128kbps internet…and i still would consider them the worst airline to fly internationally because of these charges.

  34. Tim – I know you mentioned no more endorsements, etc. But you are doing a diservice to your readers by only recommending 1 option.

    You list a suggestion for self employed / unemployed people for health insurance, but you only list one carrier. Each carrier has different rates, coverages, exclusions in each zipcode. So what is great for you may not be great for another, also height, weight, age, relative health, all play a factor.

    As an independent, self employed, broker, i am uniquely qualified to help and I represent all the major carriers and can get access to any localized initiatives, I am licensed in almost every state and can quickly get licensed whereever my clients need.. I perform the consultative review of their actual needs (how often they go to the dr right now, what their threshold for risk is, what their activity level). We do an annual review to ensure that this years policy is the best combination of pricing and coverage.

    My proposals come with a side by side line item by line item comparison for easy decision making.

    My goal is to help people 1) protect themselves against disaster and 2) never overpay.

    I am not trying to be a loser and bombard you with a sales pitch. I know that this issue can be incredibly confusing and time consuming and a professional review is helpful, saves time and money, and can bring peace of mind.

    Just some thoughts.

    Loved the book – changed my outlook. Am working on my “Muse” as we speak – childrens items, home/on the go workout equipment, nutrition

  35. I agree with Bradley Gauthier. Truth be told, all air travel is pretty bad. When you think about it, how could it not be? Being confined to a chair for hours on end, sharing recycled air and a bathroom with 100 other people, no greenery, no control over your environment, random encroachment of personal space.

    I’ve never traveled by sea (@KNau), but I’d like to. 🙂

  36. One explanation for PeopleBrowser results: Southwest hiring actually recruits for “nice” people the same way other biz’s might target people with certain degress. USAir and Delta apparently get who’s left.

    All airlines face challenges – weather problems, air traffic, etc. What’s different is how Southwest handles those issues.

  37. Well when you fly for a steep discount, as I do, because I had a relative who retired from Delta Airlines, then its hard to give it up, even if you would like to do so.

    On the other hand, airlines are terrible for many reasons, very little of it by the way because of the airlines themselves but rather because of the regulatory environment in which they operate. So the gentleman who said the worst airline is the one you are on, is telling it like it is in my opinion.

    Here is an article detailing the frustrations of travel by air on any airline.

    Peace, Quiet, and a T1 Line

  38. I just like the post as it’s a reflection of just how social networking sites online can be used to develop popularity contests.

    Pretty cool..

  39. I agree that Delta should hold the title as the worst.

    We know things go wrong, but it was the attitude of various (4) employees, that was unbelievable. Their attitude was “I don’t give a sh**” about your situation, and good luck.

    My thought was to the Delta employees… you guys do want to keep this airline in business don’t you? If so, then act like you appreciate my business.

  40. Wow, Bruce Lee rocks….

    Thanks for sharing Tim. I don’t see this as a negative post. More as a service for the readers to help avoiding bad experiences and wasting our precious time and engery with the bad airlines. Will definitely avoid some of these in the future, as I had bad experiences as well.

    Btw. Your 4HWW book rocks!

  41. Okay, someone had to be the bad guy here. Have you considered the availability heuristic? As Allen said, the worst airline is the one you are on. Ditto for the best airline.

    It seems to me that the airlines that are larger, have more passengers, and are therefore more familiar will be more likely to be voted both best and worst, simply because their omnipresence makes people more likely to have opinions on them. Smaller airlines, by contrast, will be more likely to be rated middle of the road.

    To make this methodology work, it seems you would have to also run a “best airlines” poll using the same method, and compare the two lists. If an airline is on the worst list and not the best list, then and only then should you declare that popular opinion has voted it down.

    1. Hi John,

      This is a great suggestion. That would be an excellent way to spot-check this for availability heuristic.


  42. Go Virgin!

    however, I must admit, as soon as i saw the Bruce Lee clip, I immediately felt that it would be fun, at least once in this lifetime, to pull a move like that, barring permanent damange or casualties of course.

    Hmmm… I think I’d deliver the blow to a well-picked Goldman-Sachs, Monsanto, Pfizer, Philip Moris, or (insert your favorite misery-inducing public or private global entity here) bigwig, even more than the ill behaved little people.

  43. Delta charges $300 per surfboard, one-way, for international travel. $600 RT, and thats just one surfboard. You tell me who goes on an international surf trip and brings ONE surfboard.

    Delta could provide a free IV drip of cheap wine and 128kbps internet…and i still would consider them the worst airline to fly internationally because of these charges.

  44. I don’t know what’s the most politically correct way to put this, but I’d say that all American airlines suck in comparison to, in particular, Asian airlines. It just seems like Asian airlines try so much harder when it comes to service – whether it be the impeccable Singapore Airlines (their economy experience is better than the business experience on some American Airlines, I bet!), fun Kingfisher Airlines or the slightly less outstanding but reliable Malaysian Air, Thai Airways, Srilankan, etc. Many European services are pretty good too, I’ve rarely felt like cattle on any non-American airline, to be honest!

  45. Unsatisfactory indicator.

    Tweets mentioning and voluntary response tweet polls are not good measures of service. There’s no reason to believe there’s a significant difference between airlines.

    This is because your list of the “worst” airlines is eerily similar to flown passenger-kilometers ( That’s no coincidence: the more distance planes take people, the more time on planes. That means more likelihood to receive bad service that you might tweet about or stick out in your mind when filling in a poll, through the availability heurestic.

    You’re broad prescription only applies if you believe paying more for a smaller company with less flight times is better than a larger company that provides negligibly different service. However, the conclusion that Southwest is the most reliable large airline certainly seems valid.

    1. HI Aakash,

      Agreed. This is correlation and there are a lot of variables unaccounted for. That said, I batted 0-for-10 or so on Delta, so my experience has been saturated with bad service in a statistically meaningful way, at least for this one passenger.

      Good points!


  46. I keep flying United with no major complaints–sucka for miles–but Im at a conference in LA and reading Virgin America’s new report on their environmental impact. Only US airline that is a member of the climate registry and now you can buy carbon offsets on the plane. Great value, good service, and fuzzy feelings if the cities they cover are the ones you need.

  47. If you haven’t tried Virgin America yet, I think you should.

    they are going to shake up the US market. if Airasia jumped in as well, the US airlines wouldnt know what hit them

    The US is painful to fly in.

    I just did SFO – Dublin (via atlanta) for $230 on Delta.

    For $230 they can make me sit on the floor, scowl at me all they want and I wont complain. (but really Im saying internal flights in the USA suck the big one! 🙂

  48. Just this morning my husband boarded a Delta/Northwest flight only to immediately deboard, wait for two hours and was re-scheduled with two hops from his previously one-hop flight.

    No more Delta that’s for sure.

  49. I’m glad to see that Alaska air received fairly favorable ratings. I’ll always remember that they gave my parents (and each passenger) wild salmon, venison, dutchess potatoes, red wine and commemorative GOLD BULLION to celebrate the inaugural flight.

    What happened to airlines between then and now?

  50. what is the most amazing part is americans still PAY to be treated this way. I say until you stand up and fight back this nonsense will continue. don’t be afraid to give the flight attendant a little nudge or frequently flick on your “call button”.

    In addition, I have been able to involve surrounding passengers into the antics. Smush some of the airplane food all over the lavatory door, spill your drink on the flight attendant. Do whatever it takes to annoy them more than they annoy you and you will get much more than you bargained for. + it’s a helluvah good time.

  51. Hey Tim. I hope things are changing for NWA/Delta. I got my new Skymiles card earlier this year when they announced the merger and new program. Here are the details for one flight Japan (NRT) to MPS for my wife and I:

    New Cards: 40,000 bonus miles

    RT flight NRT-MSP): 48,000 (double miles for using above card)

    RT flight (MSP-Reno): 5,600 (Burning Man FTW, and double again)

    Lasik sales talk: 10,000 (took 15 minutes, well worth it)

    Miles for purchases: 10,000 (tickets and related expense for 3)

    My son also made 24,000 miles

    One flight total: 137,600

    That is almost 2 free international tickets (NRT to MSP). They might have given you bad service, but there are some serious deals to be had there. My tickets cost just over $4000 for the 3 of us. If I can find another 10,00 miles that will be 6 tickets for $4000. Nothing to shake a stick at.

    1. Nicely done! There are definitely some cases where the potential for a few hassles may be more than compensated for by disproportionate opportunities.


    2. That is complete horsesh*t!!

      First, you only get double miles for the DOLLARS you spend on the card. In other words, if you spend $1,300 for the ticket, you get 2,600 miles, instead of the 1,300 miles you would normally get for the $1 = 1 mile formula. You do NOT double the miles you actually FLY, simply by purchasing your ticket with your SkyMiles credit card.

      Second, by late 2009, Delta was charging DOUBLE miles for their awards travel, so, instead of it costing 60,000 miles for a trip from the U.S. to SE Asia, it was then costing 120,000 miles. By early 2010, that had doubled again, so that it cost 240,000 miles for ONE ROUNDTRIP TICKET from the U.S. to SE Asia.

      Want proof? I recorded the conversation with the Delta SkyMiles agent, where I was trying to book a flight from SFO to Manila using some of my 550,000 SkyMiles. This was April of 2010, and I was trying to book a flight for late August or early September. I was told that all of the 60,000 miles seats had been booked, and that I was booking my flight too close to departure date to get the better deal. So, I asked how many miles it would take if I were to depart in October. I was told it was still 240,000 miles round-trip. How about November. Same thing. How about December? Same thing. How about January? Same thing. How about February? Same thing. How about March? She told me that they couldn’t book that far in advance.

      So, originally, the story was that I was booking too close to my departure date, and it was for THAT reason that I was being charged QUADRUPLE MILES. But, once I pushed the issue a little further, it became obvious that Delta was committing fraud by radically changing the ground rules of their awards program by ass-raping SkyMiles members.

      So, the lesson learned here is, that I cut my American Express card in half, and started charging EVERYTHING to my Citibank Master Card, where I get American Airlines Advantage miles. I live in Dallas, American’s hub, and although I have had some flights on American with absolutely rotten service, they have been the LEAST likely to lose my luggage, and have provided me with MUCH better service than Delta (THE ABSOLUTE WORST AIRLINE IN THE WORLD, EVEN WORSE THAN CHINA SOUTHERN, AND THAT IS SAYING A LOT), or NWA, United, or U.S. Air.

      The service that I have gotten from Delta over the years, on both domestic and international flights, has been consistently terrible, and that is speaking in terms of customer service, agent attitude, screwing things up, losing luggage, fees, bad food, shoddy airplanes (especially since acquiring the dilapidated planes from NWA), and failure to make things right when things go badly.

      In my experience, flying 50-100k miles per year, both internationally and domestically, there is no comparison to the airlines here in the U.S., when comparing the quality of our airlines against other domestic carriers around the world, even in such backward countries as Indonesia, The Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, and others.

      However, my experience on Southwest has always been VERY positive, and American has been mostly positive, with a couple of BIG exceptions.

      Here is a hilarious example:

      Back in 2003, I flew to SLC from DFW on American, and had one of the most rude flight crews I had ever dealt with in all my years of flying, both before and since that time. And what did I do to deserve the venom of the entire flight crew, and pilot? I simply asked, while boarding this mostly empty flight, whether I could have the flight attendant locate a seat with a power jack, so that I could work on my laptop during the flight. I was scolded severely for asking, and was told to sit down. So, I sat down. Once all of the passengers were boarded, I stood up and asked the attendant again. I was scolded again by the other stewardess, and this time the pilot (whose door was still open), turned around and shouted at me, as well. Like I said, folks, I fly all of the time, and I was being totally professional about this, yet I was treated like an obnoxious 10 year-old demanding to be transferred to first class without holding a first class ticket. In the end, I took my seat and gave up on the idea.

      So, during the flight, the flight attendant is serving drinks, and asks everyone around me what they would like, and then opened the can, and handed them a cup with ice, along with the open can.

      Finally, as an afterthought, she looked down at me and said, “What do YOU want???!” as rudely as she could muster.

      So, I decided to be a little passive aggressive. I said, “Ahhhhhhh. Hmmmmmm . . . . I’ll have aaaaahhhhhhhh . . . . . Hmmmmmmmm . . . . . how about a root beer?”, knowing full well that they didn’t carry root beer.

      “We don’t have root beer! All we have are Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Ginger Ale – ”

      “I’ll have a ginger ale.”

      So, she took the can and plopped it down in front of me and pushed the cart behind me. No cup with ice, didn’t bother to open it. Just treated me like trash.

      So, I got an idea. I decided NOT to open the can. I stuck it under my seat, and took a nap.

      After the plane landed, as I was disembarking, I was pulling my computer bag behind me, with the closed can of ginger ale on top of it. When I reached the flight crew telling everyone “buh-bye!” and had to turn left to exit the plane, I stopped and opened the can of ginger ale right in front of them.

      As expected, the contents totally exploded.

      Ginger ale sprayed everywhere – all over the bitchy stewardesses, and even into the face of the asshole pilot who had barked at me earlier. In fact, the spray even hit the control panel of the airplane. How did I know that?

      Because when I was being detained in the SLC Airport for two hours after the flight, and the crew was talking to the police, they began accusing me of vandalizing the bathroom, sticking my leg into the aisle attempting to trip the flight crew, constantly harassing them (including ringing the attendant button repeatedly throughout the entire flight), and then, of course, the pilot claimed that I had doused the control panel with ginger ale, on purpose.

      At that time, the only cops who were there were the lower-level thugs. They were yelling in my face, calling me a terrorist, and telling me that I was going to be arrested as a terrorist, and charged with a terrorist act. I swear this is a true story. I just smiled and said, “Gee, that’s really great. My attorney will get a kick out of that one, and so will the press. In fact, imagine the press reporting this: that a regular citizen terrorized an airplane and its crew with a can of soda provided to him BY the flight crew. Everyone will wonder why the airlines are passing out weapons of mass destruction to their passengers during flights. That will effectively end all beverage service on all future domestic U.S. flights, and cans of soda will become as hazardous as box cutters. Your legal theories are beginning to make more and more sense now, aren’t they?”

      When the police captain showed up and interviewed me, I explained in far less sarcastic terms the same things I had already explained to the inferior thugs who were holding me. After hearing my side of the story, about how I was just taking a drink from a can of soda the flight crew gave me, the captain told his officers that I had not committed any crime and that I could go. I mean, come on guys! I got thirsty, and opened the can of soda they gave me on the airplane. It wasn’t MY fault that it had been bottled in DFW at 430 feet above sea level, and that when I opened it in SLC at 4,200 feet above sea level, it exploded. That stupid flight attendant should have never handed me a closed can of soda, don’t you think?

      That was the sweetest revenge I have ever gotten against a surly, nasty flight crew. I wish I could do that every time. The two women on that crew, both of whom had scolded me and were exceedingly rude to me, were both drenched in ginger ale, with its sticky gooeyness all over their faces, and in their hair, and they hung around the cops and me for two hours, hoping to see me hauled off in handcuffs. Instead, I got back to my dad’s house, laughing hysterically for most of the rest of the night.

      Sticky, sticky, sticky. Oh well.

      But you know, I was so damned thirsty . . . .

  52. I fly over 100K per year mostly within the usa. I’ve had pretty good luck on United. Delta really does blow. I’d put southwest on the suck list

  53. Would you mind if I made a point or two about how I received this post? I understand it’s important to be clear about the need for change in any frustrating situation. However, on a wider note about positivity, I wonder if the forum space could have been more constructively employed to identify options for change?

    I don’t think people are knowingly ‘fools’ (I don’t have any data to back that up by the way), but they often don’t realise the impact their behaviour is having on others, personally or professionally. Sometimes it takes others to point it out or pull them up on it and relay it in a way that is forward-looking. Without sounding too trite, some things we have choices in, some we don’t. Some people can’t afford to fly. Some kids can’t even afford pens. We’re actually quite lucky that we even have that option. Perhaps you could have given us an example of how you responded to,“I see you. I’ll get your water when I have a minute. Jesus Christ”at the time it happened?

    As the flight attendant proved, aggression isn’t really that sexy. Taming the strength and power of a challenging situation and converting it to a fruitful purpose is a beautiful art. I think your post about Dr King highlighted that, as did your video on the Japanese art of yabusame. I really respect the way your mind works and the way you write, but this post left me feeling a bit confused. I don’t know much about data, but I find Twitter fun. Having said that, I’m not sure my tweets always reflect the reality or depth of my real sentiments. And random words do not always reveal the tone or intention behind a sentence. I don’t know if that’s true for anyone else? ‘Shit hot’ or ‘badass’ for example, (excuse my French) could be perceived as a positive. Equally, not everybody is as vocal – so silence can mask a thousand sentiments which cannot be translated into beautiful graphs or data.

    Anyway, mustn’t ‘delay’ you… Take care and keep up the amazing work. Really looking forward to the new book. Faye

    P.S. I’m curious to know how ‘surprise’ and ‘passion’ are negative sentiment words, ‘seriously’?

  54. The kick at the end made it worth reading.

    I agree with the poll results – Southwest, for as much flying as I do, is INCREDIBLE in comparison to Northwest and Delta.

  55. When I flew Southwest they let people in wheelchairs, and mothers with children 5 or under board first. When I flew Airtran, first class buisness people boarded first. It was a very subtle hint to me that Airtran was not as good. Also, while boarding Airtran, I looked at the first class seats. It’s the exact same thing. But there were two seats per row instead of three. So you pay a ton of extra money for a little bit of leg room? Whatever.

  56. Tim,

    I have been experiencing this a lot. Especially on Northwest (delta).. Not sure what going on.. Maybe their in a zombie trance, ( not really concise of what’s going on.) I call it auto pilot through life… Sometimes we need a wake up call from someone else to snap us out of our looping of a bad situation…Maybe this blog will help!!! Thank you for standing up and sharing this with us…


  57. OMG, I would have loved to write this article. By far, the worst airline in the United States is Spirit Airlines. And the best, which is not actually in the United States is either Singapore or Tahiti Nui, I can’t remember which, but one of them was totally awesome, I mean native dress, beautiful women, wine, brandy, entertainment, you name it.

  58. This is so flawed…

    Airlines are losing points for having larger numbers of people flying, more than anything else.

    Comparing positive to negative ratios is also irrelevant, since people are far more likely to tweet about a negative experience than an awesome positive experience.

    I realized this thing was retardedly off when Air France only just made it in the top 10..

  59. I’ve heard GREAT things about Virgin but never flown with them. Looking forward to it though.

    When flying international my BEST experience has been with EVA Airlines.

    They give AMAZING FIRST CLASS service to everyone. Smiling, fast, helpful…

  60. I live in San Francisco and happen to travel often to Seattle, Las Vegas and Los Angeles – all Virgin America routes. Virgin America is by far the best US airline right now. Their coach seating is not as generous as Southwest (which along with American has the most inches per coach seat on most planes) but the individual TVs, low lighting, leather seats and nice flight attendants make up for it. Also, their upgrades to first class are cheap. I fly American when I have to go other places and can deal with them. The only other domestic airline I’ll fly is Alaska (to Portland, for example) – they’re okay. I’ve had terrible experiences with Northwest and Delta before they merged. Also, America West – which became part of US Airways.

  61. I’m an American that lives in Europe, but I refuse to fly most of the carriers thanks to the lack of customer service on….DELTA!

    The food was horrible, the staff was cranky, and the seats were too small even for someone with a slender build like myself.

    I recommend Air France, Lufthansa, and ANA personally.

  62. As a frequent traveller in both Asia and the US, I really feel sorry for the awful service you all receive in the US. I believe that the big difference is that it many parts of the world, airline stewardess is still a glamorous job but in the US it is marginally more prestigious than working at McDonalds.

    On the other hands, when you do reach your destination, the service at US hotels is truly fantastic. Few hotels in Europe give you the service of a regular residence inn.

  63. Drop those fools Tim! That’s the way to do it lol…

    Seriously – it’s a good thing that you are using your gravity to change this type of service for the better.

  64. Hey Tim,

    Thanks for the great blog, and this post about airlines. It reminded me, I was wondering if you flew through Dulles a little over a month ago?

    I saw someone who looked like you, but he hopped on the shuttle as I was standing there trying to figure out if it was you. I almost gave chase so I could meet you, or at the very least have a funny story about approaching some stranger out of the blue, but I was in a bit of hurry so didn’t.

    Take care,


  65. Most memorable flight this year? American Airlines from LA to Kaua’i with an upgrade to first class. Between the amazing food (filet mignon cooked to perfection) and drink, including the best chocolate ice cream sundae I’ve had in a long time, it was a sweet five and a half hours. The flight attendants were so solicitous that I believe they would have given me a foot massage had I asked for it.

    The problem is flying in coach on any airline. Too many people, too little space, too few resources. Welcome to the realities of today’s economy. Upgrade to first class as often as possible.

  66. I would agree with the NWA/Delta being worst. I travel frequently for my job, and unfortunately price and time often dictate the airline. I have complained to them several times. They bumped me off of a connecting flight because they over booked by 5 people, (even though I had a seat assignment) leaving me stranded in an airport for 8 hours. They also called me as a standby passenger, seated me on the plane, and then came back and asked me to leave the plane-without explanation (they double booked my seat). I complained and at least got travel vouchers-but do I really want to fly with them again, even if it is free?

  67. This is the funniest blog post in the history of the universe. That Bruce Lee ending really made my week.

    Since you had a question mark next to Air France I will tell you that they are sucky enough to breach international borders of suckiness and make a worst US airlines list. In a fairly straight forward trip from SF to Italy via Paris, they managed to lose half my luggage, never found it and NEVER COMPENSATED ME FOR IT. Since this was a year long visit, there was some pretty important stuff in that bag. I’d like to Bruce Lee their asses.

    Also my BFF is in the process of abandoning Jet Blue (it’s not as easy as it sounds). He has a dozen “free” flights but can never use them because of their weird rules that are not applicable to their latest free flight rules. Way to alienate loyal customers, JB.

    Welcome back to SF 🙂

  68. I’ve been saying for a while that airlines are getting ruder….although, in my experience, it tends to be the US domestic flights that are the worst. I flew to New Zealand twice last year on Air New Zealand, from the US, and the service was outstanding!

    I think the rudeness is because air-travel is not what it used to be. Every man and his dog flies everywhere these days. Air travel used to be for those that could afford it, hence, less people travelling and the steward & stewardess jobs were higher class. Now – it’s like hopping on a bus…you can wear whatever you like and the staff in the skies are plucked from anywhere…..Their pay is probably crap and the patrons are not the excited, nicely dressed people they once were…..this was bound to happen….

    If the economy keeps tanking – people will fly less, airline staff will lose their jobs, flying will once again become for those that can afford it, and the people working in the air will HAVE to be polite for fear of losing their job!

  69. The problem with airlines is that they aren’t fairly charging passengers for their variable costs. i.e. fuel. Thin passengers with light bags are subsidizing fat passengers with heavy bags who are getting a free ride. One that inequality has been addressed the airlines will be able to be more profitable by apportioning fuel costs to those that use it. See my blog post Fat in Flight.

  70. Wanted to add my $0.01 on Delta. I flew Delta internationally recently and 3 out of the last 3 times my checked luggage was late. I will continue flying Delta though because they are cheapest out of SLC.

  71. Have flown Delta recently, and the service was good and flights on time. The seats are kinda small though. But the fees!? Oh lawd! Just the $15 to check 1 (!) bag was bad enough to make me think twice about using them. Imagine having to travel alot and paying that amount over and over again even if it’s a quick round trip? No thanks! Bruce Lee Head Kick FTW!

  72. I used to work for an airline. Flying public isn’t what it used to be either. Most flyers now are former Greyhound customers, because flying has become relatively cheap. You can’t expect lobster and champagne at Greyhound prices! If airfares were where they should be, maybe you could have all that again. Times have changed. Also, it would be fun to know what businesses all the commenters are in. I’ll bet I could rip most of you apart and talk about how bad your industries are, or about how bad your service is.

  73. Incredible, BizTechDay looks solid. The list of speakers is cool. I’ll definitely join in on the fun. I’m signing up. Wonder if your pal Ramit is showing up as well. Anyhow, I look forward to that and a great time in SF.

  74. Hi Tim,

    A question not directly related to that post (which I really enjoyed btw… Those charts are fab and the data greatly interesting/intriguing) but did you develop your “Most Popular” widget in-house (well… outsourced I guess 😉 or is it a wordpress plugin. I think it’s the best I have seen on the web for looks, effectiveness, etc.



  75. Tim I agree 100 percent. I fly very little any more. I would like to give a big shout out to the tall blonde stewardess who was so rude to me two weeks ago on Airtran. Indy to Orlando has never been so unpleasant. If you don’t want us to listen to the free xm radio then don’t give the head phones. I think she embarrassed herself. Rude has no place in this business but she had a corner on it. I bet she rides a broom. No more Airtran.

  76. To add a positive anecdote, I recently flew on Delta from the US to Argentina with no problems whatsoever.

    Tim, any updates on RAs for the superhuman book? Thanks.

  77. I am not surprised at all to see that Northwest made the list. We flew back from Arizona to Minnesota and were stuck on the Tarmac in Denver for 4.5 hours, we complained and received a $150 voucher the next time we flew….with Northwest of course.

    We looked on the bright side, took the vouchers, flew Northwest to Hawaii and they lost our bags.

    I decided that would be the last time I would ever fly with NWA. I only wish we (U.S.) had reputable airlines like easyjet and ryanair like they do in the U.K.

  78. Good to know 🙂 Don’t really use planes that much for work before but might just. Will definitely inform HR and Accounting about this 🙂

    Any thoughts on JetBlue? Service? Punctuality?

  79. I generally fly Northwest, as it tends to be the cheapest for the flights I need. Haven’t had a significant problem, and Delta even put me up in a hotel the one time I had a delay because of weather coming home from school. All of my friends flying other airlines were sleeping on airport chairs when I left the next morning.

    Even if Delta/Northwest were suckier, I’d keep flying them because they’re the cheapest, and I can’t afford to drop the extra cash. But I’m a student, not part of the workforce yet.

  80. Inacceptable. Mais il faut bien le dire, c’est seulement parce que je suis chauvin.

    Breach international borders of suckiness??

    Ouch Darya.

    Nice boot to the head though 🙂

  81. One interesting question about Southwest interesting status as an outlier as a good airline — it seems to me that most people who fly SW (at least out of the Boston area) are flying for a vacation, whereas most people who fly the other large airlines are flying for business. As someone who flys a bunch, I can say that I’m in a much better mood when it is for vacation, than when it is for business. My guess is most people feel the same way, and that one’s mood may affect one’s perception of service.

    So “vacation airlines” may well benefit from people being willing to tolerate more, simply because they are in a good mood. Therefore, they are rated higher.

    Just a theory, anyone else have any thoughts on this?

  82. I would have listed Delta among the better airlines but for my experience this weekend (JFK->SFO rt). I spoke to a gate ticketing agent as she was closing down her terminal from an earlier flight, and she confided that Delta is now routinely overbooking basically every flight (they call it “overselling” for some reason), and not just on high traffic weekend routes. Next time I will fly on an airline that actually tries to reserve my seat when I pay them for a ticket.

    When I got my “boarding pass”/”seat request” and checked my bag in at SFO (for $20 each way), I commented that at least my bag was going to get a seat even if I didn’t. The agent behind the counter thought I was making a joke and laughed at me. This is apparently par for the course and there was no sympathy or apologies in evidence from any corner.

    For those of you like me who prefer to check your overhead-compatible rollerboards (to avoid the laptop/fluids dance at security), you can avoid Delta’s $20 fee if you wrangle the bag through security and check it at the gate. There won’t be enough overhead space for your bag in the cabin anyway. This will slow everybody down, but Delta apparently prefers that you do it this way (perhaps their planes fly better when they are top-heavy).

  83. Hey Tim,

    I know this off topic, but it would be easier to respond to people on the blog if your comment section was threaded.

    On Topic – I’ve taken First Class International flights on Delta and they don’t even serve meals! Just peanuts and chips.

  84. Tim,

    Let’s try this again. 🙂 I think AirTran should be rated worse than they are, from my experience with them, but like Delta they share 2 things, they are both based in Atlanta (no offense to the city) but with the size and the weather that seems to delay flights, maybe it’s time to make a 2nd hub for the area. Memphis works good for FedEx, Delta, maybe you should hub more out of there, and the 2nd thing is AirTran buys Delta’s “Older” planes. So maybe they should be called Delta Jr. ?

    GMC Jr.

  85. This is most accurate rating list I have ever seen! I had my worst flight experience ever with Delta. I got stuck in Atlanta for two days and Delta had such horrible service that I ended up finally spending $850 to hop the next airtran flight. I did know if I was ever going to get home. US Airways should definetly be 2nd worst. Their planes are such pieces of junk. I have lost track of the number of times my flights have been delayed on US Airways due to mechanical issues. I am a MVP Gold with Alaska Air and I love them. in my opinion, they have the best customer service. I also love Southwest & Jet Blue. I especially love the Jet Blue terminal at JFK.