Which Airlines to Fly (or Avoid) This Thanksgiving

If you’re one of the more than 25 million Americans who plan to fly to grandma’s house for the Thanksgiving holiday, you probably will not enjoy the trip — at least if you’re flying coach class.

Airlines are planning to add more seats in the air for the period between November 20 and December 1, according to Airlines for America (A4A), an airline industry association:

A4A expects the number of air travelers during this time to increase 3 percent from the 24.5 million estimated 2014 Thanksgiving air travelers, averaging an additional 65,000 passengers per day. Accordingly, airlines are deploying a commensurate amount of additional seating capacity. Daily passenger volumes will range from 1.4 million to 2.7 million, with the busiest travel days in ranked order expected to be Sunday, Nov. 29; Monday, Nov. 30; and Wednesday, Nov. 25. The lightest travel days are Thursday, Nov. 26, and Friday, Nov. 27.

A recent survey by Consumers Union reported in Consumer Reports magazine noted that no airline gets positive ratings for its coach seating, although JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ: JBLU) got the top score for coach seat comfort and leg room, and also received favorable ratings for its check-in process, staff service and upfront fee disclosure policy. JetBlue took the top spot as the best scoring airline for its coach-class service. JetBlue’s sales are about 10% higher year over year in each of the past four quarters, so maybe this low-cost carrier is doing some things passengers like.

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Low-cost carrier Spirit Airlines Inc. (NASDAQ: SAVE) was the lowest-rated coach carrier in the survey. The airline also received low marks on all 10 aspects rated by Consumers Union. In fact, the organization said that Spirit’s “overall satisfaction score is among the lowest for any service we’ve ever rated.” Spirit’s revenues are expected to rise 10% year over year in 2015 and by more than 16% in 2016. Earnings increases have been smaller, though, hovering around 2.3% year over year for the past four quarters.

Consumers Union noted that the three U.S. airlines that control about 65% of the domestic market — American, Delta and United — placed from the middle to the back of the pack for their coach service.

Virgin America Inc. (NASDAQ: VA) scored highest for those lucky few who will fly first-class to celebrate Thanksgiving. The airline, which came public in mid-November last year, now offers free hors d’oeuvres in first class to its traditional after-takeoff cocktail service, as well as hot towels, table linens and a custom ice cream flavor. Virgin America’s earnings have beaten expectations by as much as 71% since it came public.

Hawaiian Airlines and Alaska Airlines also scored high among airlines offering first-class seats. United and U.S. Airways, now part of American Airlines, received the lowest scores from first-class travelers. Not only that, these two airlines overall first-class ratings were worse than the top six coach-class carriers.

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