Despite passengers having to pay more to fly, overall satisfaction with airlines improve for the second consecutive year, driven primarily by an increase in satisfaction with cost and fees, according to the J.D. Power 2014 North America Airline Satisfaction Study.
At a time when the cost to fly is rising due to airline consolidation, fuel costs, additional taxes and fees, and new efforts by airlines to increase revenue, overall passenger satisfaction with airlines is at a record high of 712 (on a 1,000-point scale), a 17-point increase from 2013. Satisfaction with cost and fees, which has the greatest impact on overall satisfaction, improves to 642 in 2014 from 618 in 2013.
“It isn’t that passengers are satisfied with fees, it’s that they are simply less dissatisfied because they realize that fees have become a way of life with air travel,” said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power. “Passengers are over the sticker shock of being charged more to fly, having to pay for checked bags, expedited security clearance, or for preferred seating.”
The study measures passenger satisfaction with North America airline carriers based on performance in seven factors (in order of importance): cost and fees; in-flight services; boarding/deplaning/baggage; flight crew; aircraft; check-in; and reservation.
Satisfaction among passengers who pay for checked baggage has improved steadily during the past four years, the J.D. Powers study says. Overall satisfaction among the 44 percent of passengers who pay for checked baggage averages 694, compared with 742 among the 56 percent of passengers who receive complimentary checked baggage. In comparison, overall satisfaction in 2011 was 637 among the 57 percent of passengers who paid to check baggage.
Further, 44 percent of passengers feel checked baggage fees are reasonable, up from 37 percent in 2013. Overall satisfaction among passengers who feel these fees are reasonable is 771, compared with 633 among those who feel they are unreasonable.
Garlick noted that airlines also are easing the price pain by adding value in such other areas as easier check-in processes and additional in-flight services, e.g., Wi-Fi. Despite improvements, airline satisfaction continues to significantly trail hotels (777) and rental cars (775), as well as many other industries, including credit card (767) and mortgage lenders (771).
“No doubt the airline industry is doing a better job of pleasing passengers, but there still is a lot of room for improvement,” said Garlick. “Satisfaction in improving, but it’s a stretch to say passengers are truly happy.”
Satisfaction with low-cost carriers averages 763, an increase of 8 points from 2013, while traditional carriers improve by 20 points to 683. While increases in satisfaction with cost and fees in both segments have helped narrow the overall satisfaction gap between the traditional and low-cost segments from 92 points in 2013, the cost and fees factor accounts for more than half of the 80-point difference in 2014.
Alaska Airlines ranks highest in the traditional carrier segment for a seventh consecutive year, with an index score of 737, which is a 20-point improvement from 2013. The carrier performs well in all seven factors of the study.
Delta Air Lines ranks second with a score of 693, improving by 11 points from 2013, with significant gains in four of the seven factors. American Airlines/American Eagle improves 24 points to 684 in 2014 and moves to the third rank position from fourth in 2013.
All carriers in the traditional segment improve by at least 11 points year over year, with US Airways improving the most (+26 points).
JetBlue Airways ranks highest among low-cost carriers for a ninth consecutive year, with a score of 789. This also marks the 10th consecutive year JetBlue has ranked highest in the study. JetBlue, which improves by 2 points year over year, performs particularly well in the in-flight services and aircraft factors.
Southwest Airlines ranks second with a score of 778, up 8 points from 2013, and improves in all of the factors except check-in and boarding/deplaning/baggage.
Key findings include:
- The amount of time it takes passengers to receive their boarding pass affects both overall and check-in satisfaction. Overall satisfaction declines by 41 points among the 24 percent of passengers who wait 15 minutes or longer to obtain their boarding pass. The satisfaction gap increases to 50 points among passengers in the low-cost segment.
- With 65 percent of passengers checking baggage, timeliness of baggage retrieval remains an important aspect of the passenger experience. Among passengers who check baggage, more than half wait 15 minutes or longer to receive their baggage. Overall satisfaction among passengers waiting 15 minutes or longer is 41 points lower than among those who do not have to wait as long to retrieve their baggage.
- Among the 2 percent of passengers who do not receive all of their bags upon arrival, overall satisfaction is 51 points lower than among those who receive all of their luggage. In the traditional carrier segment, overall satisfaction declines by 42 points when all bags are not received. Low-cost carriers have a higher incidence of passengers not receiving their bags compared with 2013 (2% in 2014 vs. 1% in 2013), with a 63-point decline in satisfaction when all bags are not received, up from a 23-point decline in 2013.
The 2014 North America Airline Satisfaction Study measures passenger satisfaction among both business and leisure passengers of major carriers in North America. The study is based on responses from 11,370 passengers who flew on a major North America airline between March 2013 and March 2014. The study was fielded between April 2013 and March 2014.