The Winner's Circle

Best Airlines

Best Major Airline: America West
Have you flown America West lately? If not, it might be time to give the airline another try. After years of lagging at the bottom of on-time performance and complaint rankings, flirting with bankruptcy and angering customers, the airline installed new management, and, within months, a remarkable turnaround was underway.

First, the airline got its operational house in order, and now it sits at or near the top of on-time performance rankings. Last spring, the airline tackled the problem of an unwieldy, major-airline fare structure and threw it out.

In its place are simplified, business-friendly fares that offer customers reasonable prices on tickets bought on short notice, and with no aggravating "Saturday night stayover." These radical moves enraged major carriers, which retaliated with fare wars in America West's Phoenix and Las Vegas hubs. But America West hung on.

The plan is working. Bookings and revenues are up, delays are down, and America West is coming to the rescue of value-conscious travelers seeking an inexpensive way to fly between western cities, or from coast to coast.

For example, transcontinental travelers who are willing to make a quick stop at America West hubs in Phoenix or Las Vegas pay 40 to 70 percent less than those using nonstops on major airlines. Even better, America West also offers a 5 percent discount on all tickets to small companies that are enrolled in its Corporate Awards program (free enrollment online or call 800-601-6002).

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America West is currently the eighth largest carrier in the country and flies to 92 cities in the United States, Canada and Mexico. For more information, log on to or call (800) 2-FLY-AWA.

Best Low-Cost Airline: Jetblue Airways
Skeptics scoffed when JetBlue took off for the first time from its hub at New York's Kennedy Airport in February 2000. There had been too many stories of airlines soaring momentarily, then ending up in the increasingly large dustbin of failed airline start-ups.

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But after three years of practical, well-thought-out expansion, and glowing reviews from passengers and the media, business travelers can't get their JetBlue tickets fast enough. Why? Because the airline offers just about everything a thrifty business traveler could want.

First, fares are low and simple to understand. Customer satisfaction levels are high because the airline flies only brand-new planes with assigned all-leather seats, which include in-seat DirecTV screens (broadcasting 24 channels live via satellite). It's also created a mod, easy-to-use Web site. JetBlue has created an air of "cheap chic" other airlines have found impossible to emulate.

The only downside is that JetBlue does not fly to more cities. Currently, it flies between 20 cities (mostly northeast corridor cities to and from Florida as well as to and from the West Coast) and is building a West Coast base at Long Beach Airport, 20 miles south of Los Angeles International Airport. For a route map, visit or call (800) JETBLUE.

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This article was originally published in the April 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Winner's Circle.

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