Airline Customer Satisfaction Is Actually Improving, Believe It or Not

May 30, 2018

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Social media might be teeming with passengers documenting horrible experiences with US airlines, but flyers actually say they have never been happier with airlines’ performances. Airline passengers in North America are reporting “record-high customer satisfaction,” according to a study released Wednesday by JD Power.

Despite several recent high-profile customer service debacles, and shrinking legroom, airlines’ investments in newer planes, improved overhead storage availability and cheaper fares all contributed to flyers in the US and Canada reporting the highest level of happiness with airlines since JD Power began the survey 14 years ago.

Passengers also reported better experiences boarding and deplaning aircraft and improved experience with booking reservations and checking in. Overall, customer satisfaction with North American carriers climbed six points in 2017, up to the all-time high score of 762 (on a 1,000-point scale). The higher happiness quotient continues a seven-year trend of passengers reporting customer service improvements on both traditional and low-cost carriers.

“With a single exception, airlines in North America show consistent improvements across all the factors, from booking a ticket to handling luggage,” Michael Taylor, travel practice lead at J.D. Power, said in a statement. “Operationally, it’s never been a better time to fly. Passengers perceive greater value in ticket prices, checking in has never been easier, passengers are more satisfied with the actual aircraft and airlines have improved their baggage-handling performance.”

That one category in which airlines faltered was in-flight services — especially Wi-Fi and entertainment systems. The study notes that it’s expensive for airlines to keep up with the latest Wi-Fi technology, which can be frustrating for customers.

“The exception is in the in-flight services factor, which includes food, beverage and entertainment systems,” Taylor said. “Today’s passengers expect trouble-free connectivity for personal devices and airlines are challenged to keep pace with the technology that can achieve that goal. This is important because passengers are far more likely to have a positive experience with an airline if they are entertained during their flight.”

Alaska Airlines ranked highest in the study among traditional airlines (with an overall score of 775). Alaska also ranked No. 1 on TPG‘s list of best airlines this year for similar reasons, including airfare, on-time arrivals, baggage handling, customer satisfaction and its best-in-the-industry frequent flyer program.

In the low-cost bracket, Southwest took the top spot at a score of 818, with Allegiant and Air Canada scoring an honorable mention for the biggest improvement in customer satisfaction — increasing 58 and 25 points respectively.

The report, called the North America Airline Satisfaction Study, is based on JD Power’s survey of 11,508 business and leisure travelers who flew on a major North American airline between March 2017 and March 2018.

Featured image by Hero Images via Getty Images.

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