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Flyer satisfaction plunges to six-year low

According to a newly released survey by the University of Michigan, passengers' overall dissatisfaction with the airlines has escalated to a six-year high.

In the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index, the airline industry overall scored just 63 out of 100 possible points, putting it second-to-last ahead of perennial consumer punching bag, cable TV.

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Among individual carriers, Southwest fared best, earning 76 points. Legacy carriers such as United, Delta, US Airways, and American were among the lowest ranked.

Why the lousy scores? The report cited disenchanted employees, increasing fuel costs, bankruptcy, and record levels of mishandled baggage.

Whenever Southwest outperforms the "full service" airlines, it's worth remembering the part consumer expectations play in satisfaction. Where the legacy carriers continue to overpromise and under-deliver—promoting themselves as "Something Special in the Air" and the like—Southwest has done an exemplary job of managing customer expectations, promising only to deliver what it knows it can: low fares and upbeat employees. Southwest hardly dazzles, but it rarely disappoints.

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