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Consumer Reports:

Best & Worst Airlines

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The peak travel season has begun, bringing with it crowded planes and higher fares.  Consumer Reports has just released its latest airline ratings. They're based on input from more than 16,000 subscribers. The list of complaints is long. A full third of survey respondents complained about crowded flights. And a quarter complained about cramped seats.

No-frills Spirit airlines came in last in the ratings of 11 airlines, hitting rock bottom on all of the customer benchmarks, including seating comfort, cabin staff service, cleanliness, and baggage handling.

United Airlines, U.S. Airways, and American did slightly better overall, but like Spirit, they got low scores for cleanliness and leg room.

Consumer Reports found that there are airlines out there where you can have a more comfortable flying experience. They just may not fly everywhere you'd like to go.

The highest overall score went to Virgin America, a separate company from Virgin Atlantic. Southwest scored high in customer satisfaction, too, as did JetBlue. Both airlines charge relatively few fees, which travelers seem to like. But JetBlue did better for cleanliness and seating comfort.

Some airlines have responded to passengers' frustration over fees by "bundling" services together for a fee, of course. A bundle might include preferred seating, free checked baggage, and free flight changes. But Consumer Reports said make sure you'll use all the benefits, otherwise paying à la carte fees might be cheaper.

Complete Ratings and recommendations on all kinds of products, including appliances, cars & trucks, and electronic gear, are available on Consumer Reports' website. Subscribe to ConsumerReports.org.

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