Many airline executives believe the most important driver of customer satisfaction is reliability. American Airlines hasn't been pleased with its customer satisfaction scores, so it is trying to improve the basics of its operation. That's probably the right move. But does it also need to improve its product or brand image?
Delta Air Lines likes to brag about its customer satisfaction scores, reporting earlier this month its domestic score tripled over the past decade, reaching an all-time high in September.
What about American Airlines?
On its fourth-quarter earnings call last week, it had less to boast about. In response to an analyst question, President Robert Isom admitted American’s “likelihood to recommend” score, as measured internally, decreased year-over-year for the “first time in a number of years.” The scores measure how likely a customer is to tell a friend, colleague, or relative to fly American.
I expected Isom might say something about Project Oasis, American’s plan to add seats to narrow-body aircraft to improve unit costs. All airlines are adding seats, but American is going further than some competitors, and customers have complained about reduced seat pitch and tiny bathrooms.
But Isom, former chief operating officer at American and US Airways, told analysts American doesn’t have a product issue. Instead, he blamed operations. “We know the biggest point of concern and issue with our customers,” Isom said. “They want a reliable airline. They want to be certain they get what they pay for.”
It is true on-time performance drives customer satisfaction. Delta is the most operationally sound of the major U.S. carriers and that boosts its scores. But is reliability American’s only issue? Or is there more? What do you think?
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Skift Senior Aviation Business Editor Brian Sumers [[email protected]] curates the Skift Airline Innovation Report. Skift emails the newsletter every Wednesday. Have a story idea? Or a juicy news tip? Want to share a memo? Send him an email or tweet him.
Photo credit: American has made major investments in premium services, including on-demand dining for long-haul first class passengers. But the airline is concerned with at least one customer satisfaction metric. American Airlines