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Ellen Phillips

While I never really conclude travel advice at a certain time of year, today's column completes the vacation series of the last several weeks. One column from Summer of 2018 received lots of attention – WalletHub's investigation into the all the airlines and their applicable pluses and drawbacks. This year is no exception, thanks to Diana Polk of WalletHub, who's great to send column ideas. This one's a winner!

As all intrepid flyers know, air travel is expensive; plus, these days, the Big Boys in the Sky tack on charges for every type of amenity - each to consumers' bank account detriment. WalletHub tells us that the average flight costs $363 per trip; consequently, we need to search out the best airline we can fly but at a price we can afford. Obviously, finding the cheapest airfare is now pretty easy with Internet access and searching through discount websites, some that I recently discussed (i.e. Expedia, Cheaptickets, Cheapoair, and the like). Making informed decisions based upon experts' advice can save money, time, and major frustration, and WalletHub relieves some of the latter by comparing the nine largest U.S. airlines, plus three regional carriers, across fifteen important factors. They range from cancellation and delay rates to baggage mishaps and in-flight comfort. Secondly, the site explored costs in relation to in-flight amenities with regards to fairness among airlines. After all, paying for a higher-price ticket on a flight that serves light refreshments gratis shouldn't be the same consideration for a cheaper ticket that encompasses no frills whatsoever.

Let's take a look at their "Best of the Best":

Best Overall: Alaska Airlines earned the highest overall WalletHub Score (63.52) for the third year in a row, followed by Delta Air Lines (59.69), including the award for safest (and, therefore, affording us more peace of mind during flytime).

Most Reliable: Delta Air Lines has the lowest overall rate of cancellations, delays, mishandled luggage and denied boardings. The next most reliable company is Hawaiian Airlines.

Safety: Alaska Airlines is the safest with a low number of incidents and accidents per 100,000 flight operations, including no fatalities, under fifteen persons injured in the last six years and a relatively new fleet of aircrafts. Spirit Airlines claims the #2 spot.

Most Pet-Friendly: Two airlines tied for being most pet-friendly, ExpressJet and Envoy Air, with no incidents. (If flying with your beloved Floppy, Moppy, or Peter, don't just take a chance on the carrier. For instance, ten animals died during air transportation in 2018, and four major U.S. airlines had at least one pet fatality so it's crucial to investigate the safest airline for pet safety within a convenient location for your departure and arrival.)

Most Comfortable: Hats off to JetBlue for the best overall for in-flight experience. Not only does the comfort factor offer us a great ride but, also, the airline includes free amenities, such as Wi-Fi, extra legroom, and complimentary snacks and beverages. Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines are all tied for #2 within this category.

Least Complaints kudos go to both Southwest and ExpressJet Airlines.

Contact Ellen Phillips at consumerwatch@timesfreepress.com.

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