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June 23, 2013

Virgin America flies high in airline ratings

Rankings based on survey of 16,000 customers.

Virgin America soared to the top of the latest Consumer Reports Ratings of airlines in its debut appearance on the list, receiving some of the highest satisfaction scores it has seen in years.

Consumer Reports’ airline Ratings are based on a survey of 16,663 subscribers conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. Survey respondents flew a combined 31,732 domestic flights and were asked to rate their satisfaction with their respective airlines’ check-in ease, cabin crew service, cabin cleanliness, seating comfort, baggage handling and in-flight entertainment.

Virgin America, which started in 2007 and has recently expanded the number of cities it serves to 21, received stellar scores across the board from Consumer Reports readers. And even though it charges $25 each for the first and second checked bags, it was the only airline to get the top score for baggage handling.

Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways were also rated highly, a feat they might owe to the fact that they’re the only carriers on the list that let fliers check one (JetBlue) or two (Southwest) bags for free. Both also received high marks for check-in ease and cabin crew service, but JetBlue scored higher for cabin cleanliness.

Spirit Airlines found itself at the bottom of the ratings, receiving the lowest marks across the board. The no-frills airline has fares that can be as low as 90 percent less than other carriers, but it charges a wide array of fees, including $10 to $19 to book a flight and $35 to $100 per carry-on bag. Readers were also sore about Spirit’s seats; it has the tightest seating space in the industry.

How to track down the best fare

You’ll have to shop around a bit to get a good ticket price. Here’s what Consumer Reports recommends:

• Work the Web. Almost all of the respondents (94 percent) who booked their own flights did so online. Of those respondents, 59 percent compared fees on other websites before they chose an airline. To uncover the best deal, cast that wider net.

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