Among large domestic carriers, Continental is the hands-down winner. The Houston-based airline took first place for domestic premium seating among large airlines and best value for the money on international flights.
What really made Continental stand out, though, is that it placed in the top five for every category where it was eligible to compete (i.e. everything except mid-sized or international airlines).
For low-cost carriers, Southwest Airlines continued to impress in terms of value, Web site design, and its frequent flyer program. Southwest also took first place for on-time arrivals--Continental came in second--and led the way on luggage, an easy win since Southwest has not adopted the now-widespread industry practice of charging fees for checked baggage.Making a splash its first time around, newcomer Virgin America won accolades for best premium seating for a mid-sized airline as well as coming in second place to Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines for best economy class.
Going international and want to fly with a foreign airline? You can't go wrong with Singapore Airlines, which took first place among international carriers for premium and economy seating and came in second to Virgin Atlantic for best in-flight entertainment.
As for airlines to avoid, everyone has his or her own preference, but consider this: alone among large domestic airlines, U.S. Airways did not place in the top five in any category measured. There are a lot of reasons for that, but charging $2 for soda probably didn't do much to help.