Americans take a pretty dim view of airlines—at least, they do of the giant “legacy” lines. We previously reported that the industry, as a whole, fared very poorly in the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index. A further report on the findings focused on just the most disliked companies, and all four giant legacy airlines made the 15 “worst of the worst” listing: In descending order of scoring, Delta, US Airways, American, and United. For those interested: All the other 11 most-hated outfits were concentrated in just three industries:
- Communications “won” the race to the bottom, with seven entries: DirectTV, Century Link, Cox, Time Warner, Comcast, Facebook, and Charter.
- Financials and utilities tied with two each: Bank of America and Aetna; Northeast Utilities and Long Island Power.
Airline managements aren’t uniformly stupid, so why do legacy airlines score so poorly? My take is that the only customers the big airlines really care about satisfying are those few “high-value” customers who fly a lot and pay top dollar when they do. For them, airlines roll out free, automatic, and virtually guaranteed upgrades, plus a long list of other benefits.
For the rest of us—whose opinions get counted in satisfaction surveys—the airlines really don’t care: They know we’ll buy their flight next time if it has either the lowest fare or the best (or only) schedule, and that we’ll quickly go to a competitor that can beat them in price or schedule. Satisfying customers means spending money, and airlines spend the money where they think it will do them the most good and refrain from spending they think will be wasted. The smaller, newer lines, by contrast, are more interested in satisfying infrequent travelers, and their products—and scores—reflect this focus.
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