Stats: Food, Not Price, Drives Int’l Airline Passenger Satisfaction

airplane drink
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Great food—the spicier the better—plus good customer service and a positive track record are the primary drivers of passenger satisfaction on international airline flights, according to a new study from J.D. Power. In a stark departure from the price-driven culture of domestic airline customer behavior, the J.D. Power 2019 Airline International Destination Satisfaction Study has found that cost and fees are notably less important than in-flight services when it comes to delighting passengers on international flights.

The Airline International Destination Satisfaction Study is a new syndicated study that measures passenger satisfaction with airline carriers flying from North America to Europe and from North America to Asia. It is based on performance in nine factors (in order of average importance across both models): in-flight services; cost and fees; aircraft; flight crew; check-in; boarding; immigration; baggage; and reservation.

“A low fare may be the best way to attract a first-time international passenger,” said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power in a written statement, “but retaining passengers on routes to Europe and Asia is all about delighting customers with great in-flight experiences. One of the most powerful ways to do that is with food and beverage offerings that are unique to the airline’s culture and that manage to deliver flavor at altitude, where it has been proven that taste buds grow less sensitive.”

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Following are some of the key findings of the 2019 study:

  • In-flight services—especially food and beverage—are key to passenger satisfaction: In-flight services, such as food and beverage and in-flight entertainment, are the primary drivers of passenger satisfaction among international travelers. On flights to Europe and Asia, more than half of the overall in-flight passenger experience is dictated by food and beverage. In-flight services are more important to passengers bound for Asia or Europe; whereas passenger satisfaction with long-haul flights within North America is more of a value proposition primarily driven by cost and fees.
  • But the food could be better…: While the food and beverage factor is key to passenger satisfaction, there is room for improvement. Overall passenger satisfaction with food and beverage offerings is currently lower than that of satisfaction with in-flight entertainment options. On flights to Europe, overall satisfaction with in-flight entertainment is 53 points higher (on a 1,000-point scale) than for food and beverage. On flights to Asia, that gap is 22 points.
  • Track record matters when it comes to airline selection: The primary drivers of airline selection among international passengers are past experience with the airline (40%); good customer service (36%); convenient scheduling (35%); reputation (33%); and lower ticket price (31%). Other variables, which weigh heavily on airline selection among domestic travelers—such as availability of a direct flight, no luggage fees and Wi-Fi access—play a much less significant role in airline selection among international travelers.

Study Rankings

Among carriers flying from North America to Europe, Turkish Airlines ranks highest in passenger satisfaction with a score of 833. Virgin Atlantic (829) ranks second, while British Airways and Delta Air Lines (815) rank third in a tie.

Among carriers flying from North America to Asia, Japan Airlines ranks highest in passenger satisfaction with a score of 869. Delta (861) ranks second and Korean Air (854) ranks third.

The J.D. Power 2019 Airline International Destination Satisfaction Study measures passenger satisfaction with airline carriers flying from North America to Europe and Asia. The study is based on responses from 6,287 passengers and was fielded in September-October 2019.

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