June 21, 2012
New Airline-Service Study Says Passengers are More Satisfied Now Than Last Year — But Is It Really Just Self-Satisfaction? Flyers' Own Increased Savvy About Avoiding Extra Fees May Be the Key Reason — JetBlue and Southwest Lead Carrier Rankings
A recent survey of roughly 5,000 airline passengers found satisfaction with the industry was up 3.1% from a year before on the American Customer Satisfaction Index's 100-point scale — but it may have less to do with carriers' own service improvements and more with travelers' increasing savvy about keeping prices low by avoiding some extra fees, along with some cooperation from Mother Nature, USA Today reports. Steve Lott, spokesman for Airlines for America, the trade group for the major U.S. airlines, says airlines have demonstrated improved performance recently in Transportation Department monthly measurements. "Thanks to operational improvements and fewer weather disruptions, our members are again delivering strong on-time performance and already this year set two all-time records for baggage handling," Lott said, the article reports. But satisfaction with airlines still ranks below several other industries such as hotels and full-service restaurants, the ACSI survey says. And ACSI managing director David VanAmburg agrees that the uptick in satisfaction likely has more to do with passengers finding ways to cope than genuinely enjoying their travel experiences. "[Customer satisfaction] seems to have gone up a bit because passengers continue to be increasingly savvy about how they fly," he said, USA Today reports. Fewer people are checking bags, and those who didn't pay the extra fees felt better about the airlines than those who did, the survey finds. "Customers are finding ways to avoid fees whenever possible," VanAmburg said. However, the ACSI results are in contrast to the findings of a larger survey out last week from J.D. Power and Associates, which saw satisfaction with North American airlines take a slide, dropping two points on its scale. Low-cost carriers led the pack in both surveys — JetBlue knocked Southwest out of the No. 1 spot for the first time in the ACSI survey's 18-year history. In the J.D. Power survey, JetBlue was on top for the seventh year in a row, followed by Southwest, the USA Today article reports.
VanAmburg says JetBlue's dominance could be short-lived, with Southwest's dip in customer satisfaction over the last year likely a result of growing pains caused by its recent merger with AirTran. "We see this so often with mergers and acquisitions," he says. Overall, VanAmburg says, low-fare carriers enjoy higher customer satisfaction than their legacy peers — United, Delta, American and US Airways— primarily because of their pricing, USA Today reports.
Business fliers are also more satisfied than they were a year ago, but less so than their vacationing counterparts. Meanwhile, customers showed greater satisfaction with hotels in the survey, with higher-end hotels that are pricier but offer more comforts continuing to be ranked high — and the airline industry could learn from the hotel sector's example, VanAmburg said. Customers will "pay more for a hotel room if they perceive they're getting something for that, an upscale experience, more amenities," he says. On the other hand, he says, the airline credo seems to be "we'll charge you less and give you less," he added, reports USA Today writer Charisse Jones.