Skift Take

The past six weeks have been disastrous for the U.S. airline industry. But that doesn't make this survey wrong. For most passengers (yes, even those in coach) flying in North America is much better than it was a decade ago.

Is North American airline passenger satisfaction at an all-time high?

Yes, according to a new survey of airline passengers. And no, the study was not paid for by U.S. carriers, many of whom are having a rough 2017.

J.D. Power released its 2017 North America Airline Satisfaction Study on Wednesday morning, and it found overall satisfaction increased by 30 points since last year, to 756 on a 1,000-point scale. This is the fifth consecutive year customer satisfaction reached a new all-time high, according to the company. Since 2012, overall satisfaction has increased by 75 points, J.D. Power said.

J.D. Power says it surveyed more than 11,000 passengers flying between April 2016, and March 2017. Not everything was rosy during the period — Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines suffered massive reservations system outages — but in general, North American carriers had few meltdowns during the period.

The past six weeks have been different. First, in early April, Delta took a week to recover from storms in Atlanta, ruining travel plans for thousands of passengers. Several days later, on April 9, United Airlines called security to remove a passengers in Chicago, and a video of officers hurting the man went viral. Then, on May 2, American Airlines admitted it would shrink seat pitch by as much as two inches on its new Boeing 737Max jets. And over the past week, Spirit has canceled more than 300 flights because of a dispute with its pilot union.

But none of that was included. Instead, J.D. Power found that passengers cited four parts of the airline experience that had improved — lower fares, improved on-time performance, fewer lost bags, and the lowest ever bump rate. The U.S. Department of Transportation tracks all four metrics, and all are getting better, according to government data.

Many passengers are still frustrated that they have trouble finding overhead bin space, and passengers flying on delayed or canceled flights tended to give airlines lower scores, according to the study.

Passengers also tended to complain about seat comfort and bathroom cleanliness, the study found. But passengers generally were pleased with their interactions with flight crews, according to J.D. Power.

While marks are higher than in the past, airlines are not beloved. The leader of the study, Michael Taylor, noted that overall customer satisfaction for airlines is far lower than for hotels and rental car companies. Airline satisfaction is roughly the same as satisfaction with the mortgage service industry, according to J.D. Power.

Below is the full list of airlines ranked by J.D. Power. Five stars denotes an airline is “among the best,” while four means “better than most.” A three-star airline is “about average” and a two-star airline is “the rest.”

Note: The study did not include Hawaiian Airlines, Spirit Airlines, or Allegiant Air. The three airlines did not meet J.D. Power’s criteria for inclusion, Taylor said. 

2017 North America Airline Satisfaction Study
Airline Points Star Level
Southwest Airlines 807 Five Stars
JetBlue Airways 803 Five Stars
Alaska Airlines 765 Five Stars
Delta Air Lines 758 Four Stars
American Airlines 736 Three Stars
WestJet Airlines 736 Two Stars
United Airlines 716 Two Stars
Air Canada 709 Two Stars
Frontier Airlines 663 Two Stars

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Tags: airline passenger experience, airlines

Photo credit: Southwest is one of many airlines that soon will squeeze extra seats on its planes, including the Boeing 737 Max. But passengers still like the airline a lot. Southwest Airlines

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