Airline Satisfaction Doesn’t Take Off in 2012

The J.D. Power and Associates 2012 North America Airline Satisfaction Study released today showed that overall industry satisfaction was down, but only slightly, after two consecutive years of improvement.

The study uses a 1,000-point scale, with the satisfaction rating dropping two points from 683 to 681 — a decline of 0.2%. The seven factors considered, in order of importance, were:

  • Cost and fees
  • In-flight services
  • Boarding/deplaning/baggage
  • Flight crew
  • Aircraft
  • Check-in
  • And reservation
Nasdaq Thrown Into the Freezer
Nasdaq Thrown Into the Freezer

Traditional carriers saw a slightly greater decline than the industry, dropping four points. Alaska Air Group‘s (NYSE:ALK) Alaska Airlines took the top spot for the fifth year in a row, followed by Air Canada. Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) — which, on a side note, has plans to buy an oil refinery in the works — came in third but was the only traditional carrier to improve from 2011 as it moved up two positions and nine index points.

The struggle for satisfaction could come from the fact that, as Stuart Greif, vice president and general manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power and Associates, put it:

“The airline industry is caught between trying to satisfy customers who demand low prices, high-quality service and comfort, and contending with the economic challenges of profitably operating an airline … Passengers want it all, but they are not necessarily willing to pay for it all.”

Airlines have struggled with rising fuel costs, for example, as many hiked airfare prices recently. However, the study did find that, while cost and checked baggage fees are indeed a major customer complaint, a carrier’s process and people are greater factors as to a customer will flying with that airline again, as opposed to price.

The use of mobile devices for check-in, for example, has not only increased, but leads to increased satisfaction — a trend that could help the industry in the coming years.

Low-cost carriers, on the other hand, continued to soar as they improved passenger satisfaction for the third year in a row — increasing three points and beating traditional carriers by a whopping 107 points overall. JetBlue Airlines (NASDAQ:JBLU) soared to the top spot for the seventh consecutive year and Southwest (NYSE:LUV) followed close behind. Southwest outperformed JetBlue in more categories, but was unable to compete with the leader’s large advantage in aircraft and in-flight services.

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