It's been a mixed year for Southwest Airlines. 

Sure, it was great that they started their much-anticipated service to Hawaii. And yes, they've had a lot of great stories. (This one is probably my favorite by far.)

But they've also faced investigations after a woman, Jennifer Riordan, was partially sucked out of the window of a Southwest 737 and killed. More recently, Southwest was the hardest-hit U.S. airline by far in the Boeing 737 Max crisis.

Forget about all that for a moment. Because now, Southwest has received some incredibly good news.

And it gives it a distinction no other U.S. airline can come close to claiming.

TripAdvisor announced its 2019 Travelers' Choice Awards this week, and Southwest was far and away the big winner among U.S. airlines.

Tops in the U.S.; 6th worldwide

It not only came in first for all airlines in the United States, but it was also the only U.S. carrier to break into the top 10 worldwide.

Let's give credit where it's due. The top five airlines according to the list are all from outside the U.S., and they're all airlines that most Americans will probably never have the chance to fly: 

  1. Singapore Airlines
  2. Qatar Airways
  3. EVA Air
  4. Emirates, and 
  5. Japan Airlines

But Southwest comes in sixth worldwide. The rankings were determined according to ratings and reviews that TripAdvisor members posted about the airlines over the last year.

'The staff really cares about you'

In each listing on this ranking on TripAdvisor, they added a single traveler review next to the airline's name and photo. I'm struck by the one that comes up about Southwest. It reads:

"Service was outstanding from a very engaging friendly staff. Buy the early bird boarding if seating with family is important. The staff really cares about you and it shows. Plus bags fly free."

Most of that review isn't about on-time performance, or seat pitch, or the boarding process. Instead, it's mostly about intangibles: how friendly the staff is, for example.

I keep saying this. I keep reporting it. I keep coming back to the same quote.

We don't need to recap everything that's happened with every U.S. airline. But the sum total of what Southwest has built over the last decade, and frankly longer, is a big reservoir of customer goodwill. 

It all comes back to a simple quote, by Maya Angelou: 

"People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel."  

Once again, that pays off for Southwest. And it ranks higher than everyone else as a result.

Honorable mentions

TripAdvisor also gave regional rankings. Southwest came in first in North America of course, but there was some good news for a few other airlines.

  • Delta Air Lines was listed as the best airline in the "Major Airline" category. (Southwest is considered a "Low Cost Airline" according to the rankings.)
  • JetBlue was listed second in the "Low Cost Airline" category -- and also came in first for "Passenger Comfort."
  • Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines, along with Canada's WestJet, were all listed in the "Best Mid-Size Airline" category.