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

April 24, 2014
5 min read
New Survey: Why People Hate Airlines - And Why United Is The Worst
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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 AM

ACSI 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 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

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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.
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