Airline surveys are influencing everything from menu choices to airport and airplane repairs, not to mention employee training and executive bonuses.

Another benefit besides figuring out if first-class customers prefer omelets or cereal: By corralling angry customers, airlines can intercept grievances before fliers resort to filing complaints at the Department of Transportation or squawking about problems on social media, where customer gripes can take on a big, brand-destructive life online.

At Southwest Airlines, airport managers get frequent scores on how customers rate the experience in their cities. At JetBlue Airways captains get their own customer rating based on survey questions about announcements and updates, and one-third of annual executive bonuses are tied to customer survey results.