Southwest Airlines at Palm Springs International Airport
Stephen M. Keller/Southwest Airlines
Air Travel

This U.S. Airline Has the Best Economy Seat in North America, According to Fliers

A new survey from J.D. Power shows what fliers are loving right now—and what they could do without.

It’s not just you: Many travelers today feel that airfares have gotten far too expensive lately, according to a new survey released on Wednesday. The North American Airline Satisfaction Study from J.D. Power examines passenger sentiment across the largest airlines based on the continent. So far this year, the study shows that passengers are very unhappy with the rising cost of airfares and additional fees. 

Airlines are once again operating at “peak efficiency,” according to Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power. “From the customer perspective, however, that means planes are crowded, tickets are expensive, and flight availability is constrained. While these drawbacks have not yet put a dent in leisure travel demand, if this trend continues, travelers will reach a breaking point and some airline brands may be damaged,” Taylor said in a statement.

While most U.S. airlines are struggling with many aspects of customer service, a few broke away from the pack. Some had seats, services, or other amenities that ranked well with air travelers, according to the poll, which surveyed 7,774 recent passengers on North American airlines between March 2022 and March 2023. Another bright spot of the report? Fliers are actually loving airline food right now—it was one of the only categories to show an upward trend.

Here’s what else fliers are loving, and what they could do without.

The best premium economy cabin in North America

Premium economy is one of the most popular airline cabins with passengers at the moment. Among North American carriers, fliers ranked Delta as having the best product in this trending cabin class.

Of the six airlines included in the survey, Delta’s premium economy seat took the top spot, with a score of 848 points out of 1,000.

The airline’s premium economy check-in, boarding, in-flight services, and baggage claim services all “did very well” with passengers who were surveyed, according to Taylor. “In-flight services was probably the difference maker for Delta,” Taylor said. Last year, Delta upgraded its Premium Select cabin to include warm hand towels, a sparkling wine welcome drink, and stylish amenity kits by the Mexico-based artisan collective Someone Somewhere, including skincare products from Grown Alchemist.

JetBlue Airways ranked second among premium economy cabins with a score of 840, and Alaska Airlines took the third spot, scoring 823.

The best economy seat

Despite a couple recent scheduling meltdowns, Southwest Airlines still ranked as U.S. fliers’ favorite economy seat in North America, thanks to the extra perks that are included with its airfare. “Although almost all airlines declined in passengers’ satisfaction with cost and fees from 2022, Southwest was still viewed as having the most value for the price paid for a ticket,” Taylor said. 

Each passenger on Southwest is entitled to two free checked bags and free drinks and snacks on board. What’s more: The airline has started rolling out new, upgraded planes that now come with USB power outlets and every seat, faster Wi-Fi, and larger overhead bins.

Passengers are loving airline food and drinks

Airlines are stepping up their game on in-flight menus, and fliers are taking note. “One of the few areas showing improvement across all segments this year is food and beverage, which is up 12 points overall from 2022,” says the report. 

This area of in-flight service ranked so highly in part because passengers missed full meal and beverage service during the worst of the pandemic. “The major factor in airplane food was an increase in the availability and quality of the food service,” Taylor said. 

Additionally, a few U.S. airlines have introduced new menus in the last year that would rival any dining scene on the ground. JetBlue, for one, has been rotating new slates of in-flight dishes in its Mint business class (which ranked first in the poll's first/business category) as part of its partnership with New York City restaurateurs Delicious Hospitality Group. In February 2023, the airline began highlighting flavors from SoHo Italian restaurant Charlie Bird, with dishes like cacio e pepe, flat iron steak, and burrata with crostini. Also on offer? Handmade signature cocktails like the “Mint Condition” (Bombay Sapphire Gin or Tito’s Handmade Vodka, ginger, lime, cucumber, mint) and a Venetian Spritz (House-made aperitivo, sparkling wine and grapefruit).

Airfares and fees are too expensive

 While there were some positive notes to the poll, overall the survey indicated that fliers are generally unhappy with the state of air travel today—especially due to rising airfares and airline fees. “Ticket prices in general have risen dramatically in each of the last two years,” Taylor said.

Overall passenger satisfaction with the airlines ranked at 791—a seven point drop from last year. “This is the second consecutive year of waning passenger satisfaction, following a 22-point decline in 2022 from 2021,” the report states. “The biggest factor driving this year’s decline in satisfaction is cost and fees, which has fallen 17 points from 2022.”

Even more dramatic: Satisfaction with cost and fees in the economy/basic economy segment dropped 19 points, year over year. 

According to a travel price tracker from NerdWallet, airfares became nearly 18 percent more expensive in March 2023 compared to March 2022.