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Customer Satisfaction With Airlines Up, But Costs and Fees A Barrier

June 8, 2011 By: George Dooley Travel Agent


// (c) 2011 JetBlue Airways

Although customer satisfaction with airlines has improved for a second consecutive year, dissatisfaction with cost and fees continues to persist, impeding the return of traditional network carriers to pre-recessionary satisfaction levels, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2011 North America Airline Satisfaction Study.

The study found that overall customer satisfaction with airlines in 2011 has improved to an average of 683 on a 1,000-point scale, increasing by 10 points from 2010. Among low-cost carriers, satisfaction averages 751 in 2011—achieving a five-year high. However, customer satisfaction with traditional network carriers averages 651—16 points lower than the 2007 average of 667.

For both segments, satisfaction has improved from 2010 in nearly all areas of the customer experience, with the exception of cost and fees. Compared with 2010, satisfaction with base fares has declined across every airline. However, satisfaction with costs and fees has improved among low-cost carriers, as a whole, to 725 in 2011 from 723 in 2010. 
This improvement is driven by increased satisfaction in aspects of the cost and fees measure not related to base fares, particularly among carriers that do not charge for baggage fees for the first checked bag. Traditional network carriers have not fared as well, declining from 582 in 2010 to a new low of 555 in 2011. Only Air Canada and Southwest Airlines have improved in the cost and fees factor from 2010, the report said. 

As more travelers return to the skies, many airlines have raised fares from the lower rates charged during the recession. Additional fees for food, beverages, baggage, priority boarding and seat upgrades continue to weigh on satisfaction as carriers seek more ways to diversify and grow revenue, helping the industry return to profitability.

In 2011, passengers of both low-cost and traditional network carriers express the highest levels of satisfaction with the check-in and reservation processes since 2006. 

“Despite initial declines in satisfaction with increased automation of check-in and reservations, passengers have adjusted their expectations during the past several years and now appear more satisfied with the convenience and speed that technology has enabled, while airlines benefit from reduced costs and greater efficiencies in these areas,” said Stuart Greif, vice president and general manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power and Associates. 

The study measured overall customer satisfaction based on performance in seven measures (in order of importance): cost and fees; in-flight services; flight crew; aircraft; boarding/deplaning/baggage; check-in; and reservation. Carriers are ranked in two segments: traditional network and low-cost. Traditional network carriers are generally defined as airlines that operate multicabin aircraft and use multiple airport hubs, while low-cost carriers are airlines that operate single-cabin aircraft with typically lower fares.

The J.D.Power Rankings

Traditional Network Carrier Rankings

Alaska Airlines ranked highest in the traditional network carrier segment for a fourth consecutive year and performs particularly well in four of the seven measures: flight crew; boarding/deplaning/baggage; check-in; and reservation. Air Canada improved significantly from 2010 to rank second in the segment, while Continental Airlines ranked third. Air Canada performed particularly well in the aircraft, in-flight services and cost and fees measures.

Low-Cost Carrier Rankings

For a sixth consecutive year, JetBlue Airways ranked highest in the low-cost carrier segment. JetBlue Airways performed particularly well in two of the seven measures: aircraft and in-flight services. Southwest Airlines improved considerably from 2010 to rank second in the segment. Southwest performed well in satisfaction with the reservation, check-in, boarding/deplaning/baggage and cost and fees measures.

J.D. Power and Associates also offered the following tips to consumers:

• Many airlines provide apps for mobile devices that allow users to check in for a flight and find out about flight status or cancellations. Check to see if the carrier you plan to fly with offers these apps, which may help expedite your trip even before you get to the airport.

• When booking a flight, realize that your base fare is likely not the only cost you will be charged. Many airlines also include fuel surcharges and may charge fees for seat selection, baggage, entertainment and food and beverages. Compare the total of all of these fees before booking a flight to ensure that you are getting the best deal possible.

The 2011 North America Airline Satisfaction Study measured customer satisfaction among both business and leisure passengers of major North America carriers. The study was based on responses from more than 13,500 passengers who flew on a major North America airline between July 2010 and April 2011. The study was fielded between August 2010 and April 2011.



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By George Dooley | June 8, 2011
Alaska Airlines and JetBlue Airways took top rankings for customer satisfaction.