Not all airlines are created equal, especially when it comes to business travel. It is no longer sufficient for airlines to simply provide an A-to-B travel service. With today’s focus on connectivity and electronic devices, airlines are forced to keep up with technology and improve the basic amenities they provide their passengers. This is only growing in importance for the ever moving business traveller who needs to be able to count on his airline to not only help them get to work, but also help them get work done. Below are ten of the most popular airlines in the United States. Every airline is evaluated on customer satisfaction, electronic access, in-air entertainment, legroom, on board dining, price, baggage, and punctuality.
While we have not ranked them, we have separated them into tiers to help evaluate which airlines are best suited for business travel.
Tier 1 Airlines for Business
Skytrax: 7/10 | Wifi: $16/day | Avg Cost LAX to SFO: $72.40 | On Time Rate: 81% |
Virgin America is the only airline on this list to have a rating 7/10 and one of two 4 star Skytrax rated airlines. Many of these customers attribute their positive experiences to Virgin America’s great cabin and ground services. Furthermore, Virgin is now offering a competing service to JetBlue where passengers with Netflix subscriptions are able to stream their favorite shows in the air! This service, as well as wifi, will be free until March 2, 2016 at which point travelers will have to pay for wifi. Virgin’s rates mimic most other airlines: they provide wifi for either $16 a day or $5 an hour. For passengers without Netflix, Virgin also offers complimentary live TV, paid TV, and on-demand movies. Business travellers can expect to work, or play, carefree with a power outlet in every seat. In terms of legroom and onboard dining, Virgin offers the industry norm. 32” of leg room and complimentary beverages with food for purchase.
In terms of pricing, Virgin ($72.40) is slightly lower than average ($74.57) for one way tickets from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Like most airlines, they charge $25 for the first checked bag, but with the proper carry-on bag (link to bag article) you can easily avoid that fee. Lastly, they have an 81% on time rate, which is better than the industry average of 79%. Virgin America is able to get the business traveller to his destination in style, comfort, and time.
Skytrax: 6/10 | Wifi: Free | Avg Cost LAX to SFO: $69.80 | On Time Rate: 77% |
JetBlue has a customer satisfaction rating of a 6/10 and is the other 4 star Skytrax rated airline. JetBlue has prioritized the traveller’s comfort by making entertainment, wifi, and snacks free (for the most part). JetBlue provides free wifi that not only allows passengers to browse, email, and be social, but also allows Amazon Prime subscribers to stream movies and TV shows. And, for the business traveler who wants even more, JetBlue offers “Fly-Fi+” for $9/hour which provides bandwidth to transfer large files, play online games, non-Amazon video streaming services, as well as access VPN and cloud storage. In addition to Amazon streaming services, all passengers have access to free DirectTV. Hard to imagine a business traveller getting much work done on such a decked out plane, but for those who want it, JetBlue provides the wifi and power outlets to stay productive. JetBlue does offer the most legroom out of all of the following airlines, a whopping 33” (in reality, this is only one extra inch, but every inch matters). They also provide free dunks and unlimited free snacks (cookies, pretzels, chips) as well as more food for purchase.
JetBlue’s one way ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco is the second lowest cost ticket at $69.80. The first carry-on is free and the first checked bag costs $25. JetBlue does fall short on on-time rate with a below average 77%. JetBlue may not be as reliable as many other carrier, they are, ultimately, a cost-effective, comfortable, and entertaining ride for business travellers.
Tier 2 Airlines for Business
Skytrax: 5/10 | Wifi: $16/day | Avg Cost LAX to SFO: $71.50 | On Time Rate: 86% |
Compared to the other major non-budget airlines in the United States, American and United, Delta is the highest rated of the three with a customer satisfaction rating of 5/10 and a 3 star rating. Delta offers passengers wifi for $16 a day and allows them to access basic function such as mail, social media, and browsing. Passengers can access Delta Studio, which offers a variety of free tv shows and movies, through either their own personal devices or their seatback screen. While Delta offers some method of charging electronic devices at all seats, economy class passengers only have a usb port to plug into which makes browsing on their laptops difficult. Delta planes have either a 31” seat pitch or 32”, comparable to most other airlines. Every passenger receives free snacks and drinks and has the option to purchase additional food.
Despite being one of the major 3 airlines in the US, Delta offers some of the lowest average tickets from Los Angeles to San Francisco at $71.50. In addition to cheaper tickets, Delta has surpassed its competitors in its on-time performance. With an 86%, it far surpasses American’s 80% and United’s 78%. Baggage policy is in line with the industry, passengers can have one free carry-on and their first checked bag will cost $25. With cheaper tickets and better on-time performance, Delta may be the way to go for business travelers who like to stay loyal to big brands.
Skytrax: 6/10 | Wifi: $8/device | Avg Cost LAX to SFO: $72.40 | On Time Rate: 80% |
Southwest has a 6/10 customer feedback rating, but is a 3 star rated airline. Business travelers can stay connected to email, social networks, browsing, and VPN with Southwest’s wifi for $8/device. Unfortunately, Southwest’s bandwidth is limited so access to streaming sites such as Netflix and HBO are restricted. To compensate for this, there are 19 free live channels and up to 75 episodes from popular tv shows. Movies are also available to rent for $5. It is important to note that passengers need to provide their own devices to stream all entertainment. Business travelers be warned, however, Southwest does not have power outlets on all chairs so streaming or working in the air can drain your electronic devices of their battery with no way of recharging. In terms of seat comfort, there is definitely room for improvement (literally) at only 30” of seat pitch, Southwest offers some of the tightest economy seats out there. Southwest’s on-board dining experience is very similar to JetBlue’s with free snacks and drinks with additional food options for purchase.
Southwest’s average flight cost is exactly the same as Virgin America’s. While they lack Virgin’s bells and whistles, Southwest is the only airline that still allows all passengers to have two free checked bags (in addition to their carry-ons). This means business travelers don’t have to sacrifice style for space and can afford to bring their entire wardrobe at no extra cost. Most reviews say, “you get what you pay for” and complain about Southwest’s poor on-time ratio. Despite these complaints, Southwest’s rate is still above average at 80%. Southwest won’t be winning any awards for in-air comforts any time soon, but they make up for it consistently low prices and two free checked bags.
Skytrax: 6/10 | Wifi: $16/day | Avg Cost LAX to SFO: $113.00 | On Time Rate: 87% |
Like Southwest, Alaska Airlines has a 6/10 customer feedback rating, but is rated a 3 star airline. This may be due to Alaska’s minimal in-flight entertainment. While they offer wifi for $16/day they do not have the subscription based streaming offered by Virgin or JetBlue. Furthermore, their wifi is limited in its functions and can mostly be used just for email or social media. In-flight entertainment requires users to provide their own device and download an app or plugin. With the plugin, business travelers have the option of watching limited free content or paying for on-demand movies and tv. There are power outlets for every seat, helping the business traveller stay charged while working, or watching. Alaska offers the standard 32” seat pitch as well as complimentary drinks with additional food for purchase.
Alaska’s one way flight is by far the most expensive at $113.00. That being said, this is most likely because Alaska doesn’t run this route themselves and uses American as their operator. While Alaska runs a limited number of routes, they do have partnerships with Delta and American which allows passengers more flexibility in flights and they are able to collect points with all three for Alaska. Alaska actually allows for a slightly larger free carry-on (24″x17″10″) and the first checked bag costs $25. While Alaska may fall short in on air entertainment, they make up for it by being the most punctual airline on the list with an on time rate of 87%. Alaska Airlines may not be the most comfortable airline, but it will get business travelers to their meetings on time and does offer airline flexibility for members of their frequent flyer program.
Tier 3 Airlines for Business
Skytrax: 3/10 | Wifi: $16/day | Avg Cost LAX to SFO: $76.00 | On Time Rate: 80% |
American Airlines has a 3/10 customer satisfaction rating and a 3 star rated airline. Its in-air amenities are very standard. Wif is $16 a day and offers web surfing, email, and social network access. Every seat does have a seat-back screen which passengers can use to access 260 movies, 240 TV shows, 400 music selections, 40 radio channels, and 20 games. Legroom is the typical 31”-32”. They do offer power outlets for every seat helping business travelers stay charged. American and United just announced that they would be bringing back complimentary snacks for the first time since 2011. American began serving cookies or pretzels to passengers in all classes on February 1st. While these offerings pale in comparison to some of the flights in the upper tiers, it’s better than nothing and American will undoubtedly continue to adapt to stay competitive with those airlines.
Their pricing, with the exception of Alaskan, is tied for most expensive at $76 for a one way ticket from Los Angeles to San Francisco. They allow one free carry-on suitcase and the first checked bag costs $25. American’s on time rate is just above average at 80%. American Airlines has been an airline staple for years and will likely not offer any surprises to business travelers.
Skytrax: 3/10 | Wifi: $16/day | Avg Cost LAX to SFO: $76.00 | On Time Rate: 78% |
Like American, United has a 3/10 customer satisfaction rating and is a 3 star airline. As a big 3 airline, United does not break the boundaries and offers the standard service that people expect on plains. Wifi can be purchased on board per hour (hourly rates depend on the route flown) with DirectTV available for free. Each seat comes equipped with an outlet to help passengers charge on the go. United does fall short, however, when it comes to legroom. Unlike Delta and American, United only offers 30” while the others offer 31”-32” (and as we said before, every inch counts). They have brought back complimentary snacks with stuffed stroopwafel in the mornings and snack mixes for the afternoon.
United’s one way flight price is the exact same as American, $76.00. They also offer one free carry-on and the first checked bag is $25. They do fall short, once again, with their on time rate of only 78%. United is very nearly comparable to American, with the exception of seat pitch and on time rate, and doesn’t offer business travelers anything special or out of the ordinary.
Tier 4 Airlines for Business
Skytrax: 3/10 | Wifi: none | Avg Cost LAX to SFO: none | On Time Rate: n/a |
Allegiant is still a very small airline with limited routes. They have a customer satisfaction rating of 3/10 and are a 3 star airline. They do not have wifi, in-flight entertainment, plugs, or complimentary snacks on board. They do offer the most legroom out of the three extreme budget airlines on this list at 30”-32”.
Unfortunately, because of Allegiant’s size there was no available data for the average cost of one-way flights from Los Angeles to San Francisco or on-time rate on the Department of Transportation’s website. They do charge for baggage depending on what route you are flying. Carry-on baggage ranges from $15-$20 and passenger’s first checked bag can range from $18-$30. Allegiant is a budget flight with very limited routes. Business travelers will be hard pressed to find a flight that works for them, and even if they do, Allegiant’s additional fees make their ticket prices easy to beat.
Skytrax: 3/10 | Wifi: none | Avg Cost LAX to OAK: $45.50 | On Time Rate: 69% |
Spirit has a 3/10 customer satisfaction rating, however they are the only airline on the list with a 2 star Skytrax rating. Most customer reviews bring attention to Spirit’s subpar customer service and hidden fees. Their in-air amenities are virtually non existent: no wifi, no in-air entertainment, no outlets, no free snacks or drinks. They offer the least amount of legroom at 28”-29”.
While their average flight price is unbeatable, only $45.50, a couple points are important to note. One, that price does not include a true carry-on which is a minimum additional fee of $35. This bumps the ticket up to $80.50. Two, Spirit does not fly into SFO, but into Oakland which means transportation into the city center will be more expensive than the other flights. Their on time rate is also the lowest available at only 69%. Business travelers will find getting work done on Spirit nearly impossible and the cost of flights plus fees really don’t make the extra discomfort worth the trip.
Skytrax: 2/10 | Wifi: none | Avg Cost LAX to SFO: none | On Time Rate: 73% |
Frontier has the lowest customer satisfaction on this list with a 2/10 and a 3 star Skytrax rating. Similar to Spirit, customers complained about the lack of service as well as the hidden fees that can really add up. Like the other budget airlines, Frontier does not offer wifi, in-air entertainment, outlets, or complimentary snacks and beverages. Their seat pitch is 28”-31”.
Frontier does not run the Los Angeles to San Francisco route so we were not able to compare prices. For luggage, they charge $35 for carry-ons and $30 for the first checked bag. They also have a below average on time rate of 73%. Frontier, like the other extreme bargain airlines, does not offer much to business travelers (or leisure travelers for that matter) and is not a great alternative to more established airlines.
Ultimately, the choice is up to business travelers and their travel manager. However, we recommend going with anything but the airlines tier 4. The savings you may get from their limited routes will not make up for the lack of wifi, on board dining, in air entertainment, power outlets, and hidden fees for carry-on baggage. If you have any personal anecdotes with these airlines that might help inform other business travelers please feel free to share them below!
 On time performance metrics were gathered from the Department of Transportation website for the January 2015 to November 2015 time period. Legroom is for economy class tickets. Prices were averaged over a 5 day period from April 10th-April 14th and are one way economy class tickets from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
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