Don't expect much elbow room if you fly US Airways this Thanksgiving. Source: US Airways.

Thanksgiving is typically the busiest travel weekend of the year, and 2013 is shaping up as no exception.

According to trade group Airlines for America, travelers are expected to fly some 25 million miles, or roughly 31,000 per day over the 12-day period that's considered part of the Thanksgiving travel season. Inclement weather may have already caused problems for many. How big a price you pay in terms of delays and cancellations may depend on which of the six major U.S. airlines you're flying.

After combining satisfaction scores tracked by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, or ACSI, with each carrier's year-to-date load factor, I think those flying Southwest Airlines (NYSE:LUV) are most likely to get home without incident. US Airways (NYSE:LCC) travelers might not be so lucky. Here's a closer look at the entire field.

YTD Load Factor
Customer Satisfaction Score (Rank)
Combined Score


82.8% (2)

65 (4)



84% (4)

68 (3)



84.3% (5)

83 (1)



79.9% (1)

81 (2)


United Continental

83.8% (3)

62 (6)


US Airways

85.2% (6)

64 (5)


Sources: ASCI data; company press releases.

The theory? Carriers that tend to please customers throughout the year and that leave a little capacity for overcrowding and last-minute sales are more likely to survive the nation's busiest travel weekend with their reputations intact. US Airways, with an overall score of 11 out of a possible 12, has no room for error. United Continental (NYSE:UAL), with 9 out of 12, isn't doing much better.

Why aren't Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Travel also ranked? The ACSI hasn't begun assigning them scores, though neither earns raves from employees. A dispiriting 29% of Spirit's workers say they'd recommend the company as of this writing. Allegiant's employees are almost as disloyal. Only 41% say they'd recommend the carrier. Flying either airline this weekend is likely to be a sardine-like experience, with loads ranging around 86% last month.

Now it's your turn to weigh in. Which carrier did you use to get home for the Thanksgiving weekend? How was the experience? Tell us your story in the comments box below.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He didn't own shares in any of the stocks mentioned at the time of publication. Check out Tim's Web home and portfolio holdings, or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

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