New Survey: Why People Hate Airlines – And Why United Is The Worst

by on April 24, 2014 · 27 comments

in Airline Industry

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I was perusing Consumerist this morning and came across an interesting article about a recent American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) study on the airline industry. In an industry comparison, airlines ranked near the bottom at a score of 69/100, just ahead of internet service providers, social media and subscription TV services – so way to go airlines, you have cable companies beat!

Some economy seats can be real knee-crushers, even if you are not tall like me!

Tight seats area  major factor behind the low scores

Drilling down to the airlines-specific study, which covers just the major US airline, the only carriers that beat the average score of 69 were JetBlue (79 – and still a 5% decline from last year), Southwest (78 – a 4% drop) and Delta (71). American and US Airways both got a 66, which is actually up 2% and 3% respectively, and we see that United was dragging down the average with an abysmal score of 60, a 3% drop.

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 8.15.44 AMACSI attributes the low numbers to customer dissatisfaction with terrible in-flight service, and uncomfortable seats. Apparently customer satisfaction is up at around 82% for flight booking, check-in and baggage services – which is a little surprising given some customer service stories I’ve heard and experienced myself (though I will say most airline agents are nice enough).

While the numbers speak for themselves, a score of 69 is actually on the high end for the airline industry over the past 19 years, which has ranked scores as low as 61 in the past, and where the past few years’ scores range from 62-67.

1. Stop nickel and diming us for everything. In recent years, airlines have created and raised fees on everything from checked luggage to ticket changes to just snagging an aisle seat – all of which makes the travel experience a lot more stressful for everyone. I’d love to see more airlines bundle fares and services like American’s Choice Fares (despite their recent devaluation) that include things like checked bags, waived ticket change fees and even mileage bonuses.

There are more airline fees than ever - and some of them are exorbitant.

There are more airline fees than ever – and some of them are exorbitant.

2. Stop making unannounced overnight policy changes. American and US Airways are the main culprits…at the moment. They ended bereavement fares, changed Choice Fares options and just did away with certain ticket holds as well as international gateway stopovers, among other changes like soon-to-come peak award levels…and they did it overnight with no advanced notice! The public can accept changes. What we don’t like is when you spring them on us with no advanced notice

3. Get some better seats. US legacy airlines in particular have long lagged behind not only many international carriers but also non-legacies like Virgin America and JetBlue in terms of both seat size and amenities like in-flight WiFi and in-flight entertainment options. Luckily, they finally seem to be catching up a bit on some fronts like the WiFi and installing seatback IFE monitors on new planes, while I doubt we’ll see much change in terms of legroom in economy. In the premium cabins, at least they are all making progress towards universal lie-flat seating, though some carriers like American are still a ways off from achieving that goal.

4. Improve customer service. I get it – airline passengers aren’t the easiest bunch to deal with. We’re stressed, we’re hurried, and we’re sublimating an irrational fear of flying that creeps out in uncontrolled bouts of air rage over not getting enough overhead space for our bags. Airline reps and crew have a tough job dealing with all of us. But would it really hurt to smile a little more? The main function of flight attendants especially is safety, but it would do worlds of wonder to place a little more emphasis on the service culture…and engender more flyer loyalty. Why not try a “secret shopper” approach and routinely screen your staff like many other industries do? A little courtesy can go a long way.

5. Keep us better informed. Is there anything more frustrating than sitting on an airplane that’s going nowhere with no idea why or what to expect? Or worse yet, just having your flight up and canceled with no explanation? Certainly there are extenuating circumstances in air travel beyond the airlines’ control, and when those take place often staff is stretched thin, but airlines need to be more proactive about keeping flyers informed, problem-solving and getting them on their way. That’s why I love tweeting airlines with proactive Twitter customer service accounts like @AmericanAir and @DeltaAssist who are empowered to respond quickly and effectively and should become the industry standard.

So that’s my quick hit list of personal pet peeves, and ways airlines can improve their scores. But what do you think? What steps do airlines need to take to improve? Comment below with your opinions.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Ian Lee

    Title’s rather aggressive about United, but not so many specific statements about United – mostly speaks to industry-wide right?

  • Eliz

    Why is United the worst?

  • Sol_Invictus

    It’s like part of the article is missing. Why United is the worst never gets discussed or answered.

  • Tom Love

    Have you ever been to terminal one at O’hare? Enough said…

  • Tom Love

    The folks at SW seem to smile more than others

  • Santastico

    How did United manage to be worst than Delta? They probably had to work pretty hard to win that battle.

  • Eliz

    But that’s where the good popcorn is! So, to rephrase, why is United the worst per this headline?

  • Markj

    Here is something to ponder…

    The top three…JetBlue, Southwest, and Delta all now have revenue based frequent flyer programs. The low scores all have traditional programs.

    So much for generous mileage programs being a source of satisfaction!

  • Jose

    United had the lowest score of 60

  • DFWFlyer

    Garretts is int he American terminal!

  • JK

    There’s a Garretts in Concourse B, and don’t forget Eli’s cheesecake.

  • Justin

    I just flew out of Terminal 2 and the club lounge is right across from Gate F4B…thankfully! T2 > T1

  • Jasmine

    United has horrible customer service by far worst of any airline I have been on.

  • EvanN

    United has a revenue-based FF program.

  • Jeremy X

    Can’t agree more about the poor customer service from United!!!!!! These call centers are mostly located in third-world countries such as India, and I HATEEEEEEEEE to speak to the Indian reps!!!! Don’t ask me why!!!!! No one knows what I went through each time!!!!!!!! Like the Indian reps agreed to send me a $250 voucher I would never receive, or tried to charge me an extra $600 plus flight change fee when I called to cancel one of my flight segment!!!!!!!! Worst experience ever with these reps!!!!!! I need to switch to an airline with call centers located in the U.S…………..

  • Brian C. Lee

    No, they don’t. They have a revenue based elite qualification scheme. Redeemable miles are NOT revenue based.


    I think airlines companies should be owned by governments not to public share holders for a better services . similar to Emirates , Etihad and Qatar Airways

  • AMPfromBNA

    Interesting article! I wonder… Do any of these airlines have a CXO?

  • thepointsguy

    Or IAD for that matter

  • SK

    Terrible idea i may say. Precedents to back my view are UPPS, Amtrak, Fannie/Freddie etc. There will not be any competition if there is only ONE government owned airline.

  • Jason

    To be fair to Amtrak, nationwide rail service would probably have gone away had it not been created and marketed as a single entity.

  • Dan Nainan

    As someone who is Indian, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I grew up with a father with an Indian accent, and *I* still can’t understand what these people are saying, and their robotic speech patterns, obsequious delivery and fake names are just grating. Thank goodness my airline (Delta) did away with using overseas call centers a few years ago.

  • A.J.

    I agree !!

  • RDMM

    Interesting article! I just took a first class flight with United from NRT to SFO and their lounge and ground service were a joke! Only in-flight was good, but that is not even 50% of the whole experience.

  • Judge Smails

    This airline would be better if it was Continental.

  • Nyold

    I agree with 2,4,5 but must disagree with 1 and 3.

    Re: Nickel and diming us with everything, I only think it’s fair that customers who use more “services” are charged more. If baggage fees are included in in every fare, then those who DON’T check in bags are being penalized or in a way subsidizing for those who do, because airlines will price the fares assuming only x% of people check their bags (from past data) and looking at how much things cost etc. I feel like what they should do better is to communicate clearly that this fare will get you from point A to point B without any additional frills. No checked bags, no priority boarding, no carryon (other than your personal item), no meal, not even drink. You can buy those yourselves. This should be articulated clearly. If you want bags, pay extra. If you want drink, pay extra. That’s not nickel and diming, that’s fair business model. In the long run, it would help pushing overall costs down while only charging customers for things they actually use.

    Re: small seats. Again, it’s okay for some people, and it’s not okay for some others. Right now most airlines allow you to buy premium economy or extra legroom seats for additional costs. So if you’re tall and/or overweight, pay extra. To me that’s only fair. Some people don’t need that extra leg room, we’ll be glad to sit at the back of the plane and don’t mind boarding last too since we don’t have carryons. As long as the extra fare required for extra legroom is not exorbitant (say, you’re not upgrading to business class, just upgrading to get a few more inches, so the extra fare shouldn’t be in the hundreds), I’d say this is a fair business model.

    The point here is that we need to stop looking at it as airlines nickel and diming, but more for airlines being fair to everyone, charging people for what they actually use.

  • Lynn S

    How about we extend this “good thing” further? Charge for using the toilet, charge for changing a baby and tossing a diaper, charge for using the electrical outlets to run your laptop, charge more for every 10 pounds a passenger weighs? Don’t you think having a higher base level of service is good for most people and makes the travel experience better for most people? Even short people feel cramped in the ridiculously shaped seats that are tight together. I’d like to see a return to 1 free checked bag on United and seats that don’t cripple you. Take it out of the CEO’s gross overpay for doing a mediocre job. If you like barebones “bus” style flying to cut down on your costs – try Spirit. They are good at that model.

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