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J.D. Power: Airline satisfaction reaches all-time high during pandemic; Delta ranks on top

May 12, 2021
3 min read
Delta Air Lines Airbus A350-900 aircraft as seen on final approach landing at Amsterdam Schiphol AMS EHAM airport in the Netherlands. The Delta Airlines modern and advanced wide-body airplane has the registration N512DN and is powered by 2x RR jet engines. Delta DL DAL is ranked the second-largest airline in the world with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia US and is a member of SkyTeam airline aviation alliance. Delta is connecting with transatlantic flights the United States of America with the Netherlands and Europe during the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic era. July 2, 2020 (Photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
J.D. Power: Airline satisfaction reaches all-time high during pandemic; Delta ranks on top
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In 2020, about 60% fewer people flew on commercial airlines in the U.S. as the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a virtual shutdown.

But the people who did fly were happier than ever with their airlines, according to J.D. Power.

According to the consumer research firm's 2021 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, the airline industry saw a marked increase in customer satisfaction, climbing to 819 points on a 1,000 point scale — a jump of 27 points over the previous year.

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The improvement was largely driven by how airlines responded to the pandemic, said Michael Taylor, J.D. Power's travel intelligence lead.

"The airline industry adapted to a most unusual year by simplifying ticketing processes, waiving change fees and baggage fees which were key to persuading people to fly during the pandemic,” Taylor said. “Airline personnel rose to meet the challenges of a drastically altered travel environment."

"Maintaining that level of flexibility and recognition of individual passenger needs will be a strategic advantage for airlines that want to set themselves apart in passenger satisfaction as travel volumes start to recover," he added.

There were several standout findings that helped propel overall consumer satisfaction.

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Satisfaction with flight crews rose 26 points, thanks to the work flight attendants and pilots did to explain and enforce various new health and safety policies during the pandemic. Empty middle seats, mask requirements, and flexible itineraries all contributed to customer satisfaction, too, with passengers interpreting the moves as genuine effort and concern from the airlines.

The findings are consistent with market research results that airline CEOs have touted throughout the pandemic.

For instance, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said that customer loyalty was at an all-time high thanks to the airline's — and its employees' — response to the pandemic.

More: The best travel credit cards of May 2021

"This is evident in our domestic customer Net Promoter Scores, which have been in the low 70s throughout the pandemic, a full 20 point increase over 2019," Bastian said during an investor call in April.

Airline rankings

The J.D. Power study also ranks airlines. This year, Delta ranked the highest, the first time it had taken the top spot since 1995. Notably, Delta was the last airline to begin filling middle seats again. Southwest ranked second, and Alaska came in third.

Unlike in previous years, the 2021 study ranked all airlines together, rather than distinguishing between "traditional" airlines and low-cost carriers.

Scroll down for J.D. Power's list of the top ranking airlines:

  1. Delta Air Lines (860 points on a 1,000-point scale)
  2. Southwest Airlines (856)
  3. Alaska Airlines (850)
  4. JetBlue Airways (849)
  5. United Airlines (810)
  6. American Airlines (791)
  7. Air Canada (759)
Featured image by NurPhoto via Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
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    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

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  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023