A recent consumer survey from Consumer Reports yielded few surprises. The usual airlines are again tops in service and the airline that gambled with the no-frills approach came in dead last. Cheryl Rosen reports the results that will raise few eyebrows.  

"During the first successful airplane flight in 1903, Orville Wright had to lie on top of a wing, next to the motor, in the open air. He might feel right at home on many of today's airliners," says Consumer Reports.

The magazine's airlines survey, released today, is based on ratings by 16,000 readers. It found only four airlines that ranked well for comfortable seating—JetBlue, Hawaiian, Southwest, and Virgin America. 

Virgin America did best overall, garnering top marks for check-in, service, cabin cleanliness, in-flight entertainment, and baggage handling—in fact, every category but comfortable seats. Its grade was 89 out of 100 possible points.

Southwest and JetBlue tied for second and third place, with 85 points each. The other airlines with passing grades were: Hawaiian (82), Alaska (81), Frontier (78), and Delta (71).

Delta did better on checkin, cabin service, and baggage handling than the other major carriers.

USAir and American (66), United (63), and Spirit (50) all failed the quality test.

JetBlue earned top scores for its in-flight entertainment; both JetBlue and Virgin feature seatback TV screens.

Spirit came in last. But its no-frills approach is not meant to win awards, said its CEO Ben Baldanza. And the survey was about service, though it's price that's the key to winning customers.

There's less legroom on Spirit than on any other airline and its seats don't recline; you will not be comfortable. There are no peanuts and no bottles of water.

With an average ticket price of $75 on an average flight of 2.5 hours, Spirit is the Walmart of the air.

And like Walmart, it's laughing all the way to the bank. It has the highest occupancy rate in the industry.

By Cheryl Rosen                                                                                                                                                         http://tinyurl.com/m2xl34c