Gen X loves Southwest; millennials Delta


Delta Air Lines is the most preferred U.S. airline for Americans who have traveled recently by plane, according an exclusive new Fast Company-Harris Poll.

The Atlanta-based carrier, which reported record profit this summer, was named by 26% of respondents as their airline of choice, edging out competitors Southwest Airlines (22%), American Airlines (20%), and United Airlines (17%) in a survey of U.S. adults who have taken to the friendly skies at some point in the past year.

Millennials seem especially smitten with Delta, with 33% saying it was their most preferred way to fly. The airline easily came out on top with business travelers, too: 29% said they preferred Delta, compared with 26% who preferred American, the second most popular choice for business travelers.

The survey of 467 recent travelers was conducted in October. It comes as airlines are preparing for the busy holiday travel season and stepped-up competition to win over inflation-weary consumers, while also looking at a possible slowdown in 2024 as the post-pandemic “revenge travel” era wanes.

Although Delta came out on top overall, it was not the universal favorite airline brand across generations. Gen Z respondents showed a slight preference for United, with 27% naming the Chicago-based carrier as their most preferred.

Meanwhile, 27% of Generation Xers said they preferred Southwest, making it the most popular airline for that age group. Interestingly, Gen X respondents were also the most likely to say they don’t have a preferred airline at all, with 7% choosing “N/A,” compared to 4% of survey participants overall.

Baby boomers were the least likely generation to show a strong preference toward a single airline: Delta, Southwest, and United were each preferred among 23% of air travelers age 58-76.

As for why people chose their preferred airline, air travelers across generations cited “flight cost” as the top reason, followed by reliability and the number of destinations served. Good customer service—either at airports or on flights—was also seen as a critical brand attribute, particularly among Gen Xers and baby boomers. Younger flyers, conversely, were less likely to cite customer service as a top reason for picking a favorite airline.

The survey overall includes a lot of encouraging news for an industry that has seen no shortage of controversies over the past few years, from mass cancellations and technical meltdowns to viral videos of unruly passengers.

Despite the never-ending firehose of bad headlines, a surprising 91% of air travelers said they were satisfied with their most recent flying experience, perhaps indicating that the chaotic holiday season of 2022 and nightmarish summer of 2023 are already in the rear-view mirror in the eyes of many consumers.

Of course, it’s still early November. We might want to check in with them again in a month.


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