Affluent and business travelers increasingly feel like they are being taken for a ride by airlines, according to a new report from travel industry research firm PhoCusWright. While traveler attitudes toward airlines are lukewarm overall, consumers report feeling worse about their airline experiences versus a few years ago, PhoCusWright says.
Heat from the Middle Seat: The U.S. Consumer Perspective in Air Travel reveals that less than half of U.S. air travelers feel positive about their airline experiences. A quarter of fliers feel negatively, while three in 10 are neutral. The results translate to an average score of 3.29 on a scale of 1 to 5, PhoCusWright says.
"Fliers are essentially giving airlines a grade of C+, which is barely above satisfactory," said Carroll Rheem, director, research. "But even more concerning for airlines is that their most valuable customers – business travelers and those with higher annual household incomes – are even less happy than the average."
Both business travelers and affluent travelers (i.e., those with an annual household income of US$100,000 or more) are less likely to have positive sentiments toward their flying experiences and more likely to have negative sentiments. The trend is particularly pronounced for affluent travelers, who are nearly twice as likely as travelers with annual household incomes of $50,000 to have slightly or very negative sentiments, according to PhoCusWright.
Consumer attitudes towards their air travel experiences have soured over the same period that airlines have added baggage fees and other new charges. Thirty-eight percent of leisure-only U.S. travelers feel slightly or substantially worse about their airline experiences compared to a few years ago, while just 13 percent feel slightly or substantially better. Four in ten business travelers feel their experiences have gotten worse, PhoCusWright says.
In addition to checked baggage fees, airlines are aiming to increase sales of optional services like preferred seating and priority boarding. These new products and packages represent a tremendous opportunity for airlines. However, the decline in traveler satisfaction could limit their ability to fully realize that opportunity, the new report says.
"Consumers are inherently reluctant to buy more services from companies they feel are taking advantage of them – and unfortunately, many feel that way about airlines today," said Rheem. "Airlines have therefore put a ceiling of their own creation on the potential success of optional services. If they focus on repairing relationships with their passengers, airlines have the ability to break that ceiling. Whether or not they have the inclination remains to be seen."
The new report provides insight into key issues that shape travelers' relationships with airlines and analyzes how those relationships impact the leisure air travel landscape. The report studies air shopping and booking behavior among U.S. travelers, measures consumer sentiment toward airlines, and examines the factors impacting traveler loyalty. Key topics include: of intermediaries in the air shopping process
• Traveler interest in ancillary products
• Traveler attitudes towards airlines, and trends over time
• Attitudes and behaviors of airlines' most valuable customers, including business travelers and those with high annual travel spend
• Incidence of behavioral loyalty toward airlines, impact on booking channel and loyalty drivers
This report, a derivative of PhoCusWright's Consumer Travel Report Third Edition (forthcoming), is essential reading for travel companies throughout the air distribution chain, PhoCusWright says. “As airlines seek to minimize distribution costs and boost earnings with new, bundled services, the consumer perspective remains a crucial – but often overlooked – success factor.” Heat from the Middle Seat: The U.S. Consumer Perspective on Air Travel tracks important traveler trends impacting air travel sales and distribution.