JetBlue, Southwest Best in Customer Service

A USA Today survey of several airline rankings and ratings found that JetBlue, Hawaiian, and Southwest are tops in customer service among the country's biggest airlines. "Despite lower fares," USA Today's Gary Stoller writes, "passengers consistently rank discount airlines higher in quality and service than better-known traditional carriers."

To reach that conclusion, USA Today analyzed consumer complaints filed with the Department of Transportation; the Airline Quality Rating at Wichita State and Purdue universities; and results of both the Zagat and J.D. Power and Associates surveys. The survey included 12 airlines, with the top six being mostly low-cost carriers—JetBlue, Hawaiian, Southwest, Frontier, AirTran, and Alaska, in that order—and the bottom six being entirely legacy carriers—Continental, Northwest, American, Delta, United, and US Airways, again in that order.

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Here are some additional findings from the survey:

  • USA Today determined there is "no correlation between what passengers pay for flights and their satisfaction with an airline," and said "newer planes and a concentration on service often dictate customer satisfaction."
  • The analysis noted, "Traditional airlines are often saddled with older jets, high labor costs and big networks with more connecting flights and international routes," all of which lead to cost-cutting at the expense of consumer satisfaction.
  • "Consumer satisfaction can lead to better bottom-line results. Southwest and JetBlue, for instance, have posted better earnings than traditional carriers even during the severe travel downturn the past two years."

None of this is earth-shattering news, of course. Low-cost carriers dominated our own Editors' Choice Awards, winning Most Customer-Friendly Airline (JetBlue), Best Coach-Class Experience (JetBlue), Best Free Perk (Southwest's free checked bags), and Best Value Airline (AirTran). Southwest routinely ranks at the top of our Readers' Choice Awards as well.

What interests me most about this is the conclusion that there is no link between airfare and satisfaction. I take this to mean that passengers realize no airline is consistently the cheapest, and instead place a higher priority on what they consider a good value. This plays directly into the hands of airlines like JetBlue and Southwest, which are typically among the cheapest but offer a more appealing value proposition than legacy carriers.

Readers, what do you think about USA Today's analysis?

Read comments or add your own insight!
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