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Is This the ‘Golden Age of Flying’?

Is this the “golden age of flying”? I’m in daily contact with many travelers, journalists, and industry analysts, and I don’t know anyone who would consider such an assertion to be anything but ludicrous. So my answer is an unqualified “No.”

Yet there’s one company that’s claiming just that. And no, it’s not The Onion.

According to Airlines for America, the organization that is paid to represent the interests of most U.S. airlines:

This truly is the golden age of flying. New and refurbished aircraft, larger overhead bin space, in-flight Wi-Fi and competitive prices are just a few examples of how airlines are investing more than $1.4 billion a month to improve the flying experience for our customers.

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To back up that contention, A4A pointed to just-released results of a survey it commissioned of 3,000 “people representative of the general public.” The survey’s key finding, touted on A4A’s website and in its news release and social media feeds: 80 percent of those interviewed were satisfied with their flight experience; only 6 percent were dissatisfied.

So, at a time when airline complaints are at a 15-year high, A4A wants us to believe that the overwhelming number of travelers are satisfied with their flights? That’s a head-shaker.

When a survey yields results that are this inconsistent with the preponderance of other research findings, there’s typically a problem with the survey methodology, either the way the questions are framed or the sampling technique.

The survey’s satisfaction question seems straightforward enough, albeit a bit over-generalized: “Thinking about your overall experience with air travel over the past twelve months, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you?”

The report doesn’t provide details of the sampling methodology, other than to suggest that it was designed to reflect the “general public.” But there are indications that those polled were anything but representative of the norm. For example, among the respondents, fully 23 percent reported purchasing a seat upgrade; and 19 percent were enrolled in TSA PreCheck, and 13 percent in Global Entry. Average travelers?

Also calling into question the 80-percent-satisfaction result: 91 percent ranked legroom/seat comfort among the most important factors in the inflight experience. And “onboard comfort” was the highest-ranked of the issues respondents wanted airline CEOs to improve. In other words, there’s widespread dissatisfaction with the most important determinant of flight comfort. Yet 80 percent of these squeezed and cramped flyers are satisfied with the experience?

Does. Not. Compute.

Reader Reality Check

“Thinking about your overall experience with air travel over the past twelve months, how satisfied or dissatisfied are you?” (Satisfied, dissatisfied, neither)

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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