Overall customer satisfaction with airlines in 2009 has declined for a third consecutive year to a four-year low, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2009 North America Airline Satisfaction Study. The decline is driven by decreased passenger satisfaction with in-flight services, flight crew and costs and fees, compared with 2008.
Despite the overall decline in satisfaction, the study finds that the customer-reported length of flight delays decreased by eight minutes in 2009, down from 72 minutes in 2008. Among passengers who visit an airline's main counter to obtain their boarding pass or check baggage, average wait times have decreased to 12 minutes in 2009, down from 14 minutes in 2008.
"Despite the economic stresses that airlines are under, they are recognizing the value of passengers' time and trying to make air travel more expedient and efficient," said Dale Haines, senior director of the travel practice at J.D. Power. "Unfortunately, any improvements in customer satisfaction are being offset by passenger displeasure with cutbacks on in-flight services, increases in fees and issues with the helpfulness and courtesy of flight crews."
Alaska Airlines ranks highest in customer satisfaction among traditional network carriers, while JetBlue Airways ranks highest among low-cost carriers, according to the J.D. Power study.
The study measures overall customer satisfaction based on performance in seven measures (in order of importance): cost and fees; flight crew; in-flight services; aircraft; boarding/deplaning/baggage; check-in; and reservation.
Carriers are ranked in two segments: traditional network and low-cost. Traditional network carriers are defined as airlines that operate multi-cabin aircraft and use multiple airport hubs, while low-cost carriers are defined as airlines that operate single-cabin aircraft with typically lower fares.
Alaska Airlines ranks highest in the traditional network carrier segment for a second consecutive year, and performs particularly well in five of seven measures: flight crew; aircraft; boarding/deplaning/baggage; check-in; and reservation. Continental Airlines and Delta Air Lines, respectively, follow Alaska Airlines in the rankings. Continental Airlines performs particularly well in the in-flight services and cost and fees measures.
"Alaska Airlines has made notable improvements in the courtesy and knowledge of its check-in staff from 2008," said Haines.
For a fourth consecutive year, JetBlue Airways ranks highest in the low-cost carrier segment. JetBlue Airways performs particularly well in two of seven measures: aircraft and in-flight services.
Following JetBlue in the segment rankings are Southwest Airlines and WestJet, in a tie. Southwest Airlines performs particularly well in the cost and fees and reservation measures. In addition, Southwest Airlines is the only airline in the 2009 study to demonstrate overall improvement from 2008, with the most notable increases occurring in the reservations, check-in and boarding/deplaning/baggage measures. WestJet, included in the study for the first time in 2009, performs well in the boarding/deplaning/baggage; check-in; and flight crew measures.
"It is particularly impressive that JetBlue has ranked highest in the highly competitive low-cost carrier segment for four consecutive years," said Haines. "However, competition in the low-cost carrier segment is heating up, with Southwest Airlines and WestJet closing the gap with JetBlue."
In addition, on-time arrival rates have improved from 2008. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), the overall rate of on-time arrivals has improved by more than five percentage points from 2008 to 78 percent in 2009. Analysis of BTS data by J.D. Power and Associates indicates that 70 percent of this improvement comes directly from improved performance in areas within airlines' control, rather than conditions related to weather, air traffic control or security concerns.
"Despite the economic stresses that airlines are under, they are recognizing the value of passengers' time and trying to make air travel more expedient and efficient," said Haines. "Unfortunately, any improvements in customer satisfaction are being offset by passenger displeasure with cutbacks on in-flight services, increases in fees and issues with the helpfulness and courtesy of flight crews."
The 2009 North America Airline Satisfaction Study measures customer satisfaction of both business and leisure travelers with major North American carriers. The study is based on responses from more than 12,900 passengers who flew on a major North American airline between April 2008 and May 2009. The study was fielded between May 2008 and May 2009.