Last updated: 11:00 AM ET, Fri December 25 2015

Airline Report Card 2015: Which Companies Earned High Honors?

Airlines & Airports | American Airlines | Rich Thomaselli | December 25, 2015

Airline Report Card 2015: Which Companies Earned High Honors?

It was another interesting year for U.S. airlines in 2015.

From a bottom-line standpoint, the industry continues make money hand over first, setting and re-setting quarterly earnings at a record pace.

But profit doesn’t necessarily always tell the whole story, so here’s a look at the five major U.S. carriers and what we felt their respective grade was for performance in 2015.


About the only thing preventing American from getting an A+ was its inability to come to an agreement with its flight attendants to re-do its labor contract, which many of its flight attendants feel was negotiated unfairly. Beyond that, American has had a near-seamless year of integrating merger partner US Airways into its family, including the dreaded reservations systems, and deftly handling the final flight of US Airways in October. The carrier also opened a new round-the-clock operations center in Fort Worth.


The airline that can seemingly do no wrong. Delta successfully introduced its tiered seating concept without much pushback from its customers this year, and other airlines quickly followed suit. Delta has also returned more than five percent to shareholders in 2015 and is poised to return even more in 2016. And it was named best airline for business travelers for the fifth consecutive year by Business Travel News.


Tough grade, yes, but tough year. Oh, the earnings were good. Everything else was bad – three CEOs in two months, including one forced to resign over a federal corruption probe; United ranked last among major domestic carriers in this year’s J.D. Power airline satisfaction survey; the airline has failed to negotiate contracts with its 21,000 flight attendants or its 9,000 mechanics; and five years after the merger with Continental, things still aren’t as seamless as United had hoped in terms of its operations.


A huge increase in traffic over last year and, for now, Southwest appears to have won the battle at Dallas’ Love Field, controlling 18 of the 20 gates that has allowed the airline to fly 180 daily flights out of Love to 50 cities.


The New York-based carrier did the most important thing it could this year – solidified itself with Wall Street. By breaking tradition and now charging for bag fees, JetBlue satisfied its investors who were clamoring for more. JetBlue also felt strong enough and confident enough to knock heads with the Big Three U.S. airlines when it sided with the Gulf carriers in the dispute over the Open Skies agreements.


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