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The best — and worst — airlines and airports

The results of the newest Zagat Airline Survey are in, and, as reported first on TODAY on Tuesday, the winners are young airlines and small airports.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

The results of the newest Zagat Airline Survey are in, and, as reported first on TODAY on Tuesday, the winners are young airlines and small airports.

For economy and coach service, travelers named Midwest Airlines the best, with Virgin America and Jet Blue rounding out the top three. In first/business class, it’s Virgin America, Continental and regional carrier Hawaiian Airlines. Judged most consistently on time were Southwest, Continental and Jet Blue.Among airports, Tampa International headed the list among the 7,500 people who participated in the online survey sponsored by the TODAY show and released at the start of the Thanksgiving holiday, the industry’s busiest week of the year. Rounding out the Top Five were Denver, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Orlando and Detroit Wayne County.The biggest loser in the survey was US Airways, which took last place for premium and economy service and for punctuality. The airlines that a generation ago were the premier carriers, United and American, shared the bottom of the rankings with US Airways for worst on-time service.

“They have just had problem after problem,” Tim Zagat said of US Airways. “The perception of that airline is that they’re not doing a very good job.”

Tim and Nina Zagat, founders of the survey, said that the survey reflects the fact that the older airlines have aging fleets that are not as comfortable or as fuel efficient as the fleets run by the newer airlines like Jet Blue and Virgin America, a spin-off of the highly rated international carrier Virgin Atlantic. Also, they told TODAY, new airlines tend to have younger and more enthusiastic work forces.“Continental is the one major airline that has been consistently improving over the past 17 years,” Tim Zagat told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer.

The Zagats said it was notable that Jet Blue managed to win back customers alienated by a nightmare of cancellations and delays during a winter storm in the Northeast.

“Jet Blue had some problems last year, but they faced them head on and their customers embraced them,” Tim Zagat said.

Zagat has been putting out surveys of airlines since 1990, and overall satisfaction has been declining ever since, the Zagats said.“There’s been one problem after another, cancellations and delays,” Tim Zagat said of the industry. “Even the White House this weekend said they were concerned with people getting places on time.”

Among airports, those that fared worst in the survey were aging, big-city terminals. New York fared particularly badly, placing both LaGuardia and JFK among the worst five in the nation, with LaGuardia being rated worst overall and JFK fifth-worst. Rounding out the bottom five were Miami, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

The survey showed that travelers don’t ask for much in an airline — just a flight that leaves on time and a seat that can comfortably accommodate an adult. Midwest, Nina Zagat noted, scores high because it runs just one class of service in a manageable service area.

“Midwest does a great job,” she told Lauer. “It’s got a limited area that it covers. It’s really a business-level airline, and people love that.”

Participants in the survey were asked to share any one-liners they had about the industry, and they brought three of the best ones to share with TODAY viewers.

“Their planes make Larry King look young,” one participant observed.

“Don’t enter the toilet without a hazmat suit,” said another.“The legroom is great,” opined a third, “if you’re a yard gnome.”

For complete results from the Zagat survey, visit .