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JetBlue, Continental, Alaska Airlines best in customer service

For the fourth consecutive year, JetBlue ranks number one in J.D. Power and Associates annual Airline Satisfaction Survey. The carrier is also tops in the low-cost category for the third consecutive year. Alaska Airlines and Continental tied for the highest rank in the traditional network group. The study is based on responses from over 19,000 passengers.

The study shows overall customer satisfaction dropped to a three-year low, due primarily to "deteriorating levels of customer service provided by airline staff," as opposed to high fares and new or increased fees. According to the study, "'people' factors—including knowledge, courtesy and helpfulness of reservation and gate agents, check-in staff and flight crew—has declined dramatically since 2007," a trend the study attributes to staff cutbacks and low employee morale.

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JetBlue, however, received the highest score possible in six of the seven areas measured, with Alaska doing the same in five of those seven. Continental also performed very well, finishing nearly even with Alaska in the traditional group. Behind those three, the results are less inspiring. The legacy carriers range from a bit above average (Delta) to a bit below (Northwest, United), with American and US Airways in between. AirTran and Frontier, two of the four low-cost carriers rated, finished below average.

And what about Southwest? The perennial customer favorite finished second in the low-cost category, but was rated average overall by the study. The airline's performance was hurt by low or average marks for in-flight service, aircraft interior, and flight crew, areas where JetBlue received perfect scores. It seems to me (based on comments and feedback from readers like you) that the root of Southwest's popularity lies largely in the sense that the airline won't %&$#% over its passengers (to paraphrase a recent Southwest ad), so it's interesting that the airline has cultivated this reputation while offering average to below-average customer service and amenities.

Tell us what you think: Is JetBlue's customer service really superior to that of its competitors? Is Southwest's middle-of-the-road in-flight experience a small price to pay for low fares and relatively few fees? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

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