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Big airlines that launched basic economy fares rank below Southwest Airlines in survey

Big airlines that launched basic economy fares rank below Southwest Airlines in survey
Southwest, which doesn’t sell first- or business-class seats or offer reserve seating, earned high satisfaction ratings for staff service, ease of check-in, cabin cleanliness and pricing transparency. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Three of the nation's biggest carriers — American, United and Delta Air Lines — have all added bare-bones economy fares in an effort to better compete with low-cost carriers.

But when it comes to economy flying, a new survey of 55,000 travelers by Consumer Reports still gave the highest marks to Southwest Airlines while giving lower marks to United, American and ultra-low cost carriers such as Frontier and Spirit Airlines.

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Southwest, which doesn't sell first- or business-class seats or offer reserve seating, earned high satisfaction ratings for staff service, ease of check-in, cabin cleanliness and pricing transparency, according to the survey released last week.

In the battle to serve economy passengers, American and United last year launched a new bare-bones fare, called basic economy — that doesn't let passengers change flights, select their seats or upgrade to roomier seats. Delta launched basic economy in 2014.

For good reason. Four in 10 travelers surveyed by Consumer Reports said they chose their airline primarily based on price.

Although American, United and Delta have all reported generating strong revenues from the sale of basic economy seats, the survey found that all economy flights got low scores for seat comfort and legroom, with nearly 30% of those surveyed saying their seats were uncomfortable.

When it comes to first- and business-class travel, Delta, American and United Airlines were ranked in the middle or at the bottom of the pack, with scores of 85, 80 and 79 out of 100, respectively. The highest scores for more pricey travel instead went to smaller carriers —Hawaiian (89) and Alaska Airlines (89), according to the survey.

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