5 Worst Airlines According To Zagat's

Here are the lowest performing airlines, based on comfort, food, service and website, according to a recent Zagat’s survey. Scores are out of a total possible 30.

5. United 11.75
4. Spirit 11.75
3. ATA 11
2. Northwest 11
1. US Airways 10

Spirit and ATA are discount airlines, so you’re basically strapping yourself to a flying metal tube knowing that your butt might not feel that great, but at least the extra material in your wallet helps cushion. As for the others, the legacy carriers, yeah they just stink. We find the “breakdowns” in “classic” Zagat’s style to be “particularly amusing”, and they’re posted inside…

US Airways
Defenders contend this Star Alliance “journeyman” is “finally recovering’ from the “challenges” of its America West merger and can be “solid,” especially for “short flights”; but foes let the insults fly – as “unhelpful” as “the DMV”, “schedule should be published under ‘fiction'” and the Philly hub is the “Bermuda Triangle of luggage”; others conclude “better, but not as good as it needs to be.”

United Airlines
There’s nothing united about reactions to this “big, go-everywhere” Star Alliance carrier; its “Premium Service” linking JFK to California is arguably “the best coast to coast” and “Economy Plus” is a “godsend” for “extra legroom”, but regular economy can feel “more cramped” than a “clown car” and it takes flak for “sour” staff, “delays”, “lost bags” and a “buggy” website; still, optimists say it’s “improving” post-bankruptcy.

Northwest Airlines
Like its route map, this SkyTeam member’s performance can be “all over the place” – boosters find it surprisingly “pleasant”, with some “newer planes”, “frequent upgrades” and a “better” attitude, but there are also reports of “ornery” staff, “ratty” “Reagan-era” aircraft and flights with “no food, no movies”, even “no ppilot” (ergo recent “cancellation” issues).

For the best, see Zagat’s Top Airline Picks.

The Zagat Airline Survey [Zagat]
(Photo: ragekagekaren)


Edit Your Comment

  1. JKinNYC says:

    Comfort, Food, Service, and Website???

    One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong. (Where’s Cookie Monster when you need him.”

  2. no.no.notorious says:

    she looks appauled!

  3. no.no.notorious says:

    *appalled. woops

  4. Pelagius says:

    Where’s Air Canada? That dismal airline is an argument for annexing the Great White North, preferably to Singapore or the UAE.

  5. kimsama says:

    @Pelagius: OMG, I hate Air Canada. I lost a day off a trip to Japan once, because during a brief stopover for “fueling” they gave us the wrong gate for the new plane (also wrong on the monitors).

    I have many lovely pictures of myself flipping the bird to various Air Canada people in the airport that day. They didn’t seem surprised, and many of them thought it was totes funny.

  6. veraikon says:

    Oh NOW they tell me! I’m flying US Airways this weekend. And guess where I’m going through? Philly! I’m only checking one piece of luggage, but now I’ll make sure to pack as much as I can in my carry-on.

  7. skittlbrau says:

    @veraikon: I flew through Philly on my way to and from Spain, with no luggage issues on my end.

  8. coryj says:

    @baa: My girlfriend has had her luggage lost by US Air 3 of the 4 times she’s been to Philly in the last year. Apparently they recently made some major changes and its supposed to be better now, though.

  9. mopar_man says:

    Did anybody else think of Chris Farley’s Bennet Brower skit on SNL while reading through that (think quotations)?

  10. leastcmplicated says:

    anyone else notice the “annoying use” of all the “quotation marks”? Anyone else find themselves doing “air quotes” in their head while reading the “quote from Zagats”?

  11. leastcmplicated says:

    Also, thanks for posting this survey. I need to travel internationally in January and I never thought about looking into Emirate Airlines, but it make the best list so I might just do that :)

  12. jamar0303 says:

    I flew USAir for Nashville-DC-Boston. Not exactly pleasant, but I didn’t lose anything (helped that I didn’t check anything in).

    But my god- I’m only amazed that Delta didn’t make this list. I *loved* Northwest. Clean, nice aircraft, friendly service (though I believe that when I was younger the flight attendant stayed pleasant only through an act of God because I was so awful on flights back then). Delta, on the other hand… NO.

    Wouldn’t hurt if some Asian airlines could fly domestic US routes and show these airlines a thing or two, though.

  13. superflippy says:

    I was really surprised that America West didn’t make the top 5. Then I read that they’ve merged with US Air, and I see they have indeed taken their rightful spot on the list.

  14. badgeman46 says:

    Nickel and Dime…free form spoken word by J. Badger:

    Lets face it, USairways sucks. Held captive for hours, kidnapped by rogue marketing campaigns by listening to the Carnie Barkers pulling the Hard Sell on credit cards. Forced to stare at ads on your tray table. Nickel and dimed if you want to sit on an aisle seat, window seat exit row. At least the bathrooms are safe. Wait? You gonna charge me for Number Two? Am I on a plane, or at Crazy Eddies Used Car lot??? WTF, I gotta go.

  15. missdona says:

    I had good luck with ATA when commuting from NY to Chicago.

    They have a horrible on-time record, I think one out of every 5 evening flights was on time. But the service was efficient and friendly.

  16. nweaver says:

    If you fly ENOUGH on a Major, United beats the others because at 25K/year miles you get automatic economy plus.

    Until then, it is dreadful.

  17. JustAGuy2 says:


    That’s the standard format for Zagats’ reviews – they use bits of quotes from the individual reviews to put together their summary.

  18. zach_morris says:

    US Air sucks. I try to avoid it as best I can, but had to take it on Sunday night.
    The flight was delayed on the runway for one hour for (1) a maintenance problem (broken bathroom,) (2) two passengers who hadn’t arrived (though, of course, the door was already sealed,) and (3) a re-up from the catering truck.
    Naturally, when we took off an hour late, (1) the bathroom was still broken, (2) the passengers’ seats were empty, and (3) there was no booze to be served.
    What a waste of the buzz I had built up at the airport.

  19. papa-galo says:


  20. RagingBoehner says:

    @badgeman46: I flew USAir back from Florida to DC over Thanksgiving and had a plane where the “ding” sound (you know, the one popularized by the SWA commericals) went off at a loud volume for almost the entire time that the plane was on the ground in Charlotte. At least we only had to wait for 13 planes to take off while this happened. This was about 20 minutes of incessant dinging.

    The crew I guess “fixed” it so that it only went off when something was broadcast to the cabin over the PA system. So they did their best to trim the announcements to the cabin knowing this.

    Until — they turned on these Hilton and Mastercard ads on the teevees — then they did the full announcement about all the benefits of the Bank of America rewards card.

    You couldn’t really hear what they were saying anyway because of the loud, incessant dinging, and it seemed like they felt like assholes making the announcement but had to do it anyway.

    I have no problems with cross promotion unless it wakes me up.

    At least all my flights were reasonably on time. And no lines to check in! Go US Air!

  21. mthrndr says:

    Northwest? really? I’ve only had relatively pleasant experiences with them (HINT: at least last year, they board exit rows right after their 1st class and gold members, so you can get on without waiting if you score one of those seats)

  22. Why is Southwest Airlines not on that list?

  23. Altdotweb says:

    Because Southwest consistently provides what their customers expect. Planes that get where they say almost all of the time and a clean plane.

  24. Nick says:

    @Papa Midnight: Because Southwest is usually rated near the top of lists. (They have a higher on-time percentage, lose less luggage, and generally have decent customer satisfaction.)

  25. cabinaero says:

    @mthrndr: They also tend to board “families with pre-school aged children” before first class and their ueber-elites, and do a single cattle call for coach on most of their flights. (I don’t have any status whatsoever on Northwest but, as an ueber-elite on another carrier, I wince a little when I see that happen.)

    We flew NWA for Thanksgiving and I was shocked at how low the service level was in the economy cabin compared to United or American. Actually the word I’d use would be perfunctory — one quick pass for drinks, one quick pass for trash when we started our descent. I’ve had much better service on LCCs in SE Asia than on NWA.

  26. yoni says:

    @Papa Midnight:

    Are you high?

  27. XianZomby says:

    U.S. Airways from St. Louis to D.C., via Philly: With weather issues in DC, I was told 1) Stay in STL another day, or 2) Fly into Philly and stay in a discounted hotel via coupon provided by the airline, then fly into DC early the next morning. I opted for the second choice. When I got to Philly, there was no coupon for a hotel. I was told I could relax for 10 hours in the publicly accessible baggage claim area. I asked for my baggage and was told: “it’s checked through to DC, there’s nobody to go get it for you, so you can’t have it.” I opted to rent a car and drive home. The next morning I went to Regan to get my luggage. But it had been lost and didn’t show up till 8 p.m. that night. No apologies from anybody, no assistance, no help.

    So U.S. Airways? FU. You deserve the crown for being the shining failure of your miserable, mismanaged industry.

    It’s been more than 100 years now since the Wright brothers invented the airplane. You’d think by now airlines would have found a way to be both competent and successful with that discovery.

  28. ARP says:

    Papa Midnight- Southwest is no frills, but they are very upfront about who/what they are. It manages expectations about what you get. They also have excellent on-time records and clean planes. Also, their customer service is pretty good.

    United is like many of the other legacy carriers. Their focus is on frequent travelers, business/first class, etc. and so they let their “regular” travlers rot. It’s good for short term stability, but will hurt them in the long run. Not that any US carrier thinks long term.

  29. rachaeljean says:

    @Papa Midnight:

    I agree with you… Southwest was the only airline flying from PDX to Boise and back for cheap when I was in high school and college, and I would fly out every few months to visit my Mom. It was pretty awful. I hate they way the attendants try to be comedians, it’s always jam-packed full of screaming kids (who get to board first, which I understand but it still makes me bitter)… at least they USED to do boarding pass groups (remember those little cards??) but they quit that a few years ago and it is, indeed, like cattle going through the chute. People cut in line, seniors are often forced to wait, it sucks. The one thing I can say for them is my luggage has never been lost… but I usually just took a carry-on bag, so that’s not saying much.

    Granted, I don’t have a lot of experience with other airlines to compare SouthWest to. I’ve been on others just a handful of times for vacations, but always remember thinking I was living it up in the lap of luxury compared to Southwest. Not to long ago Alaska started making the PDX-Boise route and are only about $20 more than Southwest, if not cheaper sometimes. I gladly pay the $20 to have a boarding pass with an assigned seat and to not have to put up with the crews “antics.”

  30. TeraGram says:


    Seven airlines in the Santa Barbara airport and two of them are on the list. I don’t fly very often, I hate it with a passion. This list sort of confirms what I’ve been feeling all along. I could drive on down to the LA airports, but that’s even worse not to mention even more expensive!

    ai yi yi

  31. MercuryPDX says:

    @mopar_man: No… Austin Powers/Dr. Evil. :)

    @badgeman46: OMG Seconded. I have never before felt like a “captive audience” than on my US Air flight from Tampa to PDX. I plan on avoiding them at all costs if I ever have to go back that way, and at the very least avoid changing planes at Phoenix.

  32. sxs3200 says:

    3 weeks ago, I flew on NorthWorst- I mean Northwest airlines. On the return flight from Memphis TN to DCA, a flight attendant started an argument with 2 passengers and dragged me into it as well. It apparently started with a passenger asking “Why do we have to turn off electronics and why can’t we use cell phones in flight?” I wanted nothing to do with the conversation, but since I had both a laptop AND an iPod, the stewardess insisted that I join the fun. I briefly stated my thoughts on the matter (that it is for crowd control, to keep communications to a minimum (because everyone who would want to use a phone in flight is obviously a terrorist), and to make sure people pay attention in the likely event that the plane fails to take off or land properly (see: crashes). She continued to try to argue with 2 other passengers about it (the other passengers were calm and orderly as well), but this lady would NOT let the issue go until we landed.

    On a Spirit airline flight a few years ago, I felt like I was being packed into an overly smelly greyhound bus. Mid flight, the passenger in front of me continually hit me in the knees with his seat and then tried to get me to fight with him (seriously, his wife was egging him on) when I asked him to stop.

  33. wurly says:

    you people defending Northwest must not live in Detroit or Minneapolis (hubs where everyone is forced to fly NWA enough to see what its really like). It is the shittiest airline ever.

    i had a boyfriend that worked at northwest who always said “the only people they treat worse than their employees is their customers”

    they are also terrible corporate citizens — corrupt and evil in all ways.

  34. Pop Socket says:

    @papa-galo: I flew a code-shared flight recently, Delta over, Air France back. No comparison. Free unlimited bread and wine (it was New Years Eve) in coach.

  35. jamesdenver says:

    Here’s a more intelligent analysis on “best of worst of” lists.


  36. SeraSera says:

    I flew from DIA to Reagan on United with a layover in Chicago. Flight from DIA to O’Hare was fine… and then our 2:30-ish flight from Chicago to DC was delayed because of a broken plane. The next flight to DC went out before my flight, without United ever mentioning that anyone could try to switch over… yeah, I’ll be sticking to Frontier for all my Denver flying in the future. The only good thing I can say about United is that they have delicious, delicious biscotti and free movies.

    (Also, no thanks to the ass next to me on that Chicago-DC flight who blared Transformers on his DVD player, lifted all the armrests, threw his coat on me, and took up half my leg space by sprawling into my seat. Not United’s fault, but I still feel that if I only got to use half my seat, I should really consider writing in and asking for half fare…)

  37. cyclade says:

    USAirways seems like three separate airlines to me.

    1. USAirways Shuttle in the BOS-LGA-DCA Corridors: Actually a consistently great way to fly each time I’ve used ’em. Loads of room in the seats, helpful staff, and the nice “free” newspapers and magazines to enjoy.

    2. USAirways connecting through Charlotte: A decent experience, nice terminal, and (usually) friendly and helpful staff in the event that things go awry.

    3. USAirways connecting through Philly: Total freaking nightmare. I won’t choose this option unless it is literally the ONLY way to go, even if I have to pay a few bucks more on another carrier. The airport is a dump, the staff are typically the surliest and least customer-friendly people I have ever experienced in an airport anywhere in the world, and the aircraft I’ve flown on that have connected trough there seem to be the dregs of the USAirways fleet. Oh, and if you’re returning through Philly on an international flight and are connecting to another destination, be sure you have several hours before your connecting flight. The process of coming back through the immigration and customs checkpoint at that airport is a true ordeal!

  38. bilge says:

    Reagan-era? Try Nixon-era.

    Then again, the DC-9 interiors were refurbished fairly recently so I don’t think the age of the plane is a valid bash against NWA.

  39. skinny2 says:

    Never understood why people are so hung-up to get an assigned seat. Everytime I have an assinged seat, the person assigned next to me is fat, stinky, or both. With southwest, I prefer to board last so I can pick who i’m going to spend a couple hours next to. Damn strait I can profile all I want……..

  40. vastrightwing says:

    U.S. Airlines: We’re #1 and we don’t even try!

  41. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    “Spirit and ATA are discount airlines, so you’re basically strapping yourself to a flying metal tube knowing that your butt might not feel that great, but at least the extra material in your wallet helps cushion.”

    Amen. Remember Presidential Airlines? They flew from LAX to Atlanta for $59 coach, and $125 for First Class ROUND TRIP. Crappy seats, rude flight attendants, and dry chicken… but the flights were always on time. Dang I miss them.

  42. mathew says:

    I am really surprised that American Airlines didn’t make the list.

  43. vladthepaler says:

    Not surprised to see United at the top of the list. I had to fly on United once last year; the plane’s interior was falling apart and filthy, and they charged for food on the flight. What is it they say, if you’ve got it flaunt it and if you ain’t got it, flaunt that?

  44. miburo says:

    Air Canada was the rudest , worst airline I ever flew. I got stuck in Italy for an extra day without compensation because of bad advice from their counter agents. If it wasn’t for one of their alliance members (Luftansa) rescuing me I would have been down an extra 400$. He actually told me not to mention anything about the fare he gave me to AC on the flight back and was appalled at what they did to me.

  45. nealdc says:

    My family and I flew Spirit for Christmas to Grand Cayman, only one way down as their fare for the return flights was 3 times the cost with US Air, which I used to come back. When I set up the itinerary in October, based on what I saw on the website, I thought “this seems like a neat company”, so I joined the frequent flyer club and the $9 club, and even got their co-branded MasterCard for the extra miles and for the free continuing membership in the $9 club [after you pay the first $9 for a trial, the privilege of getting email notices of special deals is $29.95 — now going to $39.95 — or “complimentary” for 3 months if you take the MasterCard and then free for every card billing cycle if you use the card at least once in a cycle — check the website for this]. I started getting $9 special fare email offers right away, and checked about possibly getting one of these deals. Every time I clicked in [you can’t buy any ticket costing less than $10 over the phone — only on line], the site indicated that all the seats were gone and I could get the same seat for $149 or $189, etc., even when I clicked in immediately after receiving the email. When I called [you generally get the Phillipines call center and the communication is spotty at best, and while generally nice, these reps are clearly undertrained, underequipped and very overworked] to inquire about getting one of these special “offers”, I was told “there are a very limited number of seats offered in every deal, and you must have clicked in too late and simply found all the allocated seats already sold” so the customer is invited to pay the much higher fare to get the ticket. Right! Anyway, online, using my Spirit MasterCard,I purchased bag check vouchers a few days before departure so that not only could I access the 2 bag/person limit — during busy periods for some destinations, passengers are restricted to only 1 bag if they show up at the check in desk without having prepurchased checked bag vouchers — but also so I would pay only $5 for checking a bag rather than the usual “show up” bag check fee of $10, and risking getting sent home for having excessive baggage, or having to pay $50 or more for the second bag as a gross violation of temporary holiday bag limit regulations. Problem 1: when I got my credit card statement for December [after getting home in January] I found they had also charged $29.95 for the $9 club membership along with the bag check voucher charges, even though I had used the card as specified in the fine print. I called Spirit to discuss this [as is the usual practice for disputing unauthorized merchant overcharges] and they claimed this was something I had to take up with MasterCard, not them, but if I wanted to cancel my $9 club membership and stop getting the worthless [my word] bait-and-switch [also my word] $9 fare club special email “offers”, I could cancel — on line only as they would not accept my cancellation orally in the call. Right here let me say that in the many calls I have made to their 800 number, I have not had less than a 20 minute wait to speak to anyone, sometimes waiting 1 or more hours. [And also, by the way, option 4, which is “other service”, i.e. “customer” service, ALWAYS rings fast-busy when you select it, meaning you cannot directly access “customer” service from the phone menu. If you press “1” for reservations and then ask the agent to connect you, they agree to do so and 1 or 2 hours later you are still on hold, without having ever reached “customer” service.] I immediately went online and canceled the useless $9 club membership, and as directed wrote a full explanation to Barclay’s MasterCard. I got back a brush off letter saying basically that I had voluntarily joined the club and therefore knew I was liable for the charge and they were not going to even take up with Spirit the issue of my being charged without my authorization for something the policy states is “complimentary”. When I called Barclay’s MasterCard about this response, they said that part of the terms of their agreement to establish the co-branded credit card was for them not to allow disputes by customers for the $29.95 overcharge! It seems this was a scam that was already preconceived and agreed to by both Barclay’s and Spirit, and not only I, but all the others who had been ripped off, had no recourse, nor would Barclay’s take up with Spirit any issue of unauthorized charges or fraudulent overcharges. I take the position that unauthorized charges to my credit card, no matter by whom, is a form of fraud, and as a MasterCard customer, the least they could do is pursue the dispute with the offending merchant. They refused based on their “agreement” with Spirit that this [and other unidentified scams by Spirit]conflict between a customer and Spirit is not something they will pursue and the customer is wrong from the beginning and loses while the company is right and wins. Amazing! Problem 2: On the flight down, they “lost” one of my 7 prepaid checked bags. This sort of thing happens, right? Well, it seems they only fly the Grand Cayman routes [at that time] Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so after waiting behind about 50 other passengers with “lost” bags, I finally got up to the claim desk [operated by Cayman Air at the airport baggage claim section — Spirit does not have a single employee in Grand Cayman] where I was told that my bag might come on the next flight and since this was Sunday [right before Christmas eve], I would surely not see the bag before Thursday at the earliest as Spirit has a policy of not using other airlines [for example those that fly every in every day] to bring in overlooked bags. P.S. when we were waiting on the tarmac at FLL, I did see several overfilled baggage trolleys that Spirit personnel just did not load. Little did I know that my bag was most likely one of those still on the tarmac when we took off. I was informed by the Cayman Air rep that after the first 24 hours without the bag, I would be entitled by the regulations to a compensation of $25 per day, and further he provided a 1-800 number for me to “check” on the status of the delivery of my bag, and further I would be lucky to get the bag by Thursday’s flight because he had a 3 inch thick stack of other lost bag claims from prior flights that needed to be processed before mine would even be considered. Luckily I was staying past Thursday so if I did get the bag by then, I could use my belongings, but others, particularly families [one family of 5 ahead of me in line got none of their bags at all and were only staying to the following Saturday] would be without their personal belongings for virtually all of their trip. Spirit just left them to their own devices. I called the 1-800 Spirit lost bag number that I had been given more than 50 times between Sunday and the following Thursday and each time the recording announced: “This is Spirit Air. Due to an unusually large volume of calls, all our representatives are busy. Please call back at another time”, and they terminated the call. That number never did produce a connection or a conversation. I was never able to find out when or if I was in fact going to get the bag at all so it was not clear what I should do to replace the personal items. After several days of not knowing anything, I did get the bag late Thursday after Christmas. After I got home, I filed a claim as per the instructions on the reverse side of my copy of the claim form. Just now I have received not one but two responses from Spirit. The first one says that since I did not have a “round trip” reservation, I have no standing to make any claim for lost baggage, as their policy is to honor claims from only customers who hold a “round trip”, not one-way itinerary and they were outright rejecting my claim based on that. So even though they “lost” a bag on a single flight, the fact that I did not hold a return reservation, prevented me from making any kind of claim for the event that occurred on that single flight. Right! The second response said that even though I had filed my cla
    im timely, I had not included “receipts” for personal items purchased during each of the 24 hour periods that the bag was undelivered, and consequently I would receive no reimbursement as I had not complied with regulations. It is their position that I had not complied with regs, and so any claim for improper customer treatment, inconvenience, loss of time, loss of money, etc., was just my own affair and they take no responsibility or concern at all in any of it. I am still working on this, but I just thought you readers ought to know some of the details of just one horrible experience with Spirit. Plain and simple: Spirit is not only a bunch of “crooks”, which I quote, as one blogger has already said, but customer service is somewhere between non-existent and rudely dismissive — take your pick. I might also mention that the Cayman Air rep gave me a corporate phone number for Spirit in Miramar, Fla, and when I finally reached someone to tell about my difficulties, they were horribly rude and demanded to know how I got the number and warned me in the strongest terms not to use it to try to reach anyone in the company at any future time. This is Spirit Air.