Airline Passengers See Improved Service

Major airlines are doing a better job of satisfying their passengers this year, according to a new report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). At 67 (on a scale of 0 to 100), customer satisfaction with the airline industry matches its best level in a decade, but there is plenty of room for improvement. Despite gaining 3.1 percent for 2012, airlines remain in the bottom 3 among 47 ACSI industries, along with subscription TV service (66) and the fast-fading newspaper industry (64), ASCI says.

“High ticket prices, growing fees, and poor service are not a formula for strong customer satisfaction in the airline industry,” says Claes Fornell, ACSI founder. “The industry is doing a better job of serving business travelers as witnessed by the rise in their overall customer satisfaction—from 61 last year to 66 in 2012—but leisure travelers remain far more satisfied with a score of 71.” The ACSI’s June report covers customer satisfaction with airlines and hotels.

Airlines: JetBlue Replaces Southwest as Industry Leader. After 18 years of nearly undisputed customer satisfaction leadership in the airline industry, Southwest has relinquished first place to ACSI newcomer JetBlue. For 2012, JetBlue debuts at 81, the same score that Southwest led with in 2011. Meanwhile, Southwest’s merger with low-cost competitor AirTran seems to have dampened its passenger satisfaction, as the airline declines 5 percent to second place at 77.

“Airline mergers tend to create significant passenger dissatisfaction in the short term as operations are combined and consolidated,” notes Fornell. “Southwest’s share value has declined 20 percent over the past year while the rest of the market stayed largely unscathed, with most major airlines flat or improving.”

Last year, Delta’s ACSI score tanked following its merger with Northwest. This year, Delta rebounds 16 percent to 65—a score that remains quite low, but is no longer last place. US Airways gains 7 percent and ties Delta at 65. American Airlines and United show small 2 percent increases for 2012, but both remain poor ACSI performers at 64 and 62, respectively. 
In contrast to these large legacy airlines, the aggregate of all other airlines (such as small carrier Alaska Air or low-cost operators Spirit and Frontier) are doing a better job of pleasing passengers, despite a 3 percent downturn to 74.

Hotels: Leisure Travelers Happier Than Business Guests. Customer satisfaction with hotels is stable at 77, which is much higher than airlines, but lower than either restaurant category this year. Business travelers are less satisfied with their chosen hotels than vacationers (ACSI score of 72 compared with 77), which mimics results for the airline industry. There is little movement among the top hotel brands. Among eight major chains, five show ACSI changes of 1 percent or less compared to 2011.

Hilton retains the industry lead with an unchanged ACSI score of 80, followed by Marriott at 78. InterContinental ties the aggregate of smaller chains and individual hotels at 77. A trio of companies is deadlocked at 76: Hyatt, Best Western, and an improved Choice Hotels (+3%). Starwood drops back to 75 after a 5 percent loss, while budget-brand operator Wyndham trails the field at 70 (-4%), ACSI  says.


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