Despite a recent spate of headline-grabbing in-flight dust-ups, a study released Wednesday found that overall customer satisfaction with North American airlines is at its highest level ever, continuing a trend that stretches five consecutive years.
Lower fares, better on-time performance, fewer lost bags and the lowest bump rate ever recorded contributed to steady improvement in customer satisfaction with North American carriers, according to Costa Mesa-based J.D. Power.
“It’s impossible to think about airline customer satisfaction without replaying the recent images of a passenger being dragged from a seat, but our data shows that, as a whole, the airline industry has been making marked improvements in customer satisfaction across a variety of metrics, from ticket cost to flight crew,” said Michael Taylor, with J.D. Power’s travel practice.
“As recent events remind us, however, airlines have significant room for improvement,” he said. “Airlines still rank among the bottom tier of most service industries tracked by J.D. Power, far lower than North American rental car companies or hotels.”
The study, now in its 13th year, measures passenger satisfaction with North American airline carriers based on performance in seven factors (in order of importance): cost; in-flight services; aircraft; boarding/deplaning/baggage; flight crew; check-in; and reservation.
Among traditional carriers, Alaska Airlines ranked highest for the 10th consecutive year, with an index score of 765, performing particularly well in all seven factors of the study. Delta Air Lines is ranked second (758), improving in all seven factors.
Among low-cost carriers, Southwest Airlines ranked highest for the first time with a score of 807, performing particularly well in all seven factors. JetBlue Airways was second (803), improving in six of the seven factors.
Following are some of the key findings of the study based on responses from 11,015 business and leisure travelers who flew on a major North American airline between March 2016 and March 2017:
— Overall satisfaction with the airline industry in 2017 increased by 30 points to 756 on a 1,000-point scale, continuing a trend of performance increases that began in 2013. Both traditional and low-cost carriers have shown improvement, with the traditional carriers continuing to close the satisfaction gap with low-cost carriers (740 vs. 784, respectively).
— The average North American airfare fell 8.5 percent to $349, helping to drive satisfaction levels in the cost and fees factor in the study to the highest level since 2006. Improved on-time performance, fewer lost bags, historically low bump rates and high scores for flight crews also contributed to the overall increase in airline customer satisfaction.
— Among business travelers, 21 percent posted a comment about their airline experience on social media, while 8 percent of leisure travelers did so. Nearly three-fourths of social media posters had positive comments.
— After a slight dip in 2016, problems with overhead storage have become more common, with 14 percent of passengers in 2017 reporting this as an issue on their flight.
— Although instances of denial of boarding and re-booking to another flight — known as “bumping” — have reached historic lows in frequency, they have the greatest negative influence on overall satisfaction.
— When there are delays, such as those caused by weather or mechanical issues, satisfaction levels fall by 101 points when a traditional carrier is delayed and by 59 points when a low-cost carrier is delayed.