Rankings released of best and worst airlines

Fees for checked baggage and limited leg room are among the many gripes consumers' expressed in Consumer Reports' airlines ratings survey. The top complaints?

"A full third of survey respondents complained about crowded flights and a quarter complained about cramped seats," said Karen Jaffe of Consumer Reports.

No-frills Spirit Airlines came in last in the ratings, 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.

"There are airlines out there where you can have a more comfortable flying experience. They just may not fly everywhere you would like to go," said Jaffe.

In the ratings of 11 airlines, 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. 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 says make sure you'll use all the benefits, otherwise paying à la carte fees might be a better way to go.

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2011. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

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