Recent airline mergers have harmed customer-satisfaction ratings, as two of Chicago’s biggest carriers, United Airlines and Southwest Airlines, saw their ratings slip, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index released Tuesday [embedded below].

As an industry, airlines ranked poorly, scoring just 69 on the ACSI’s 100-point scale — at the bottom of ratings, along with subscription TV, social media and the IRS.

Meanwhile, Chicago-based Orbitz Worldwide, operator of, ranked tops among online travel agencies, edging out major U.S. competitors, according to the ACSI ratings of airlines, hotels and Internet travel agencies.

For airlines, generally poor in-flight service and a lack of seat comfort were reasons for the industry’s “dismal performance,” even though passengers were pleased with the check-in process and ease of booking, according to ACSI.

“The ability to create a satisfied customer remains elusive for most airlines,” ACSI said in announcing the ratings.

Chicago-based United Airlines ranked dead last, losing 3 percent and scoring a 60 on the index.

Its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines is likely one of the reasons, ACSI said.

“We’ve seen time and time again the negative impact mergers have on customer satisfaction,” Claes Fornell, ACSI founder, said in a statement, adding that American Airlines could also see slumping satisfaction as it combines operations with US Airways.

A United spokesman said recently, in response to a different ratings report, that the airline “is investing significantly to improve our customers’ experiences and provide employees the tools to deliver great service, with customer satisfaction ratings consistently reflecting that improvement.”

Southwest led the industry in satisfaction for 17 years until it merged with Airtran in 2011, and Delta Air Lines “is just now recovering from its 2008 merger with Northwest,” Fornell said.

Despite a 5 percent drop from last year, JetBlue, at 79 on the index, ranked highest among airlines. Southwest dropped 4 percent but still came in close behind, at 78 — that, despite raising average fares 25 percent over the past six years. Delta improved the most with a 4 percent increase, to 71. That’s the highest rank among legacy airlines and a 27 percent improvement since 2011, when Delta plunged to an all-time low in customer satisfaction after combining with Northwest Airlines.

US Airways was up 3 percent, and American Airlines was up 2 percent.

A different rating system recently found that airline quality improved to the highest level in the 24-year history of the Airline Quality Rating report, a joint project of researchers at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Wichita State University. It measures on-time performance, baggage handling, customer complaints and being involuntarily bumped from a flight.

Among online travel agencies on the ACSI report, Orbitz ranked first with a score of 77, followed closely by Expedia, 76, Priceline, 75, and Travelocity, 74.

Among hotels, Marriott, boosted by its Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott brands, led the sector with a score of 81, while other upscale hoteliers, Chicago-based Hyatt, Hilton and InterContinental, tied for second, at 78. Hotels catering to budget and mid-markets fell below the industry average. Low scores for Wyndham’s budget hotels — Days Inn, Ramada Inn and Super 8 — contributed to its overall lowest score of 72, according to ACSI.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index describes itself as an independent national benchmark of customer satisfaction. Each year, it surveys 70,000 customers about products and services, leading to benchmarks of customer satisfaction with more than 230 companies, 43 industries and 10 economic sectors, as well as over 100 services, programs and websites of federal government agencies.

ACSI says companies with high levels of customer satisfaction tend to have higher earnings and stock returns than competitors, and that customer satisfaction can be predictive of consumer spending and national economic growth.

Photo Credit: A departure monitor shows cancelled and delayed flights in terminal C at LaGuardia Airport in the Queens borough of New York February 3, 2014. Joshua Lott / Reuters