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New Study Shows Airlines Are Huge Disappointment, Water Is Wet

How satisfied are travelers with the airlines?

Not very, according to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), an independent benchmarking service developed at the University of Michigan. The findings were based on surveys completed by 70,000 consumers, and depict satisfaction levels with more than 230 companies in 43 industries.

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As a group, U.S. airlines scored 69 points on a 100-point satisfaction scale, unchanged from last year. To put that score into perspective, "only subscription TV, Internet service and social media sites have lower levels of customer satisfaction in ACSI." So, of the 43 industries benchmarked for customer satisfaction, the airlines ranked 40th, behind 39 other industries. Not quite at the bottom, but close.

Of course, some airlines were higher rated than others. Among the six largest carriers, JetBlue scored highest and United was lowest, as follows:

  • JetBlue (79)
  • Southwest (78)
  • Delta (71)
  • American (66)
  • US Airways (66)
  • United (60)

The study breaks down satisfaction with various areas of airline services and operations. In general, flyers were most satisfied with the more automated, computer-based interactions. Loyalty-program satisfaction was mid-pack, at 74. And seat comfort was the area of least satisfaction, with a score of 63.

  • Ease of check-in (82)
  • Ease of booking (82)
  • Website (80)
  • Baggage handling (80)
  • Timeliness of arrival (79)
  • Flight crew (79)
  • Boarding (78)
  • Loyalty program (74)
  • Schedules (72)
  • Call center satisfaction (70)
  • Inflight services, including food and entertainment (67)
  • Seat comfort (63)

If there's a take-away from these results, it might be a mash-up of that low score for seating comfort and JetBlue's industry-leading score. There's no doubt that JetBlue scored as well as it did in large part because it features more legroom than the other airlines. If the other carriers were interested in delivering a more satisfying experience to their customers, increasing legroom would be an obvious way to do so.

Although that logic may seem compelling, there's currently no financial imperative to address the issue of seating comfort, or any of the other areas of customer dissatisfaction. The airlines as a group are flying more than 80 percent full, and profits are generally healthy.

It may be broke, in other words, but there's no reason to fix it.

Reader Reality Check

Over the next year, do you expect airline service to improve, to decline, or to remain the same?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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