By now, nobody should be surprised to see JetBlue carry off yet another win in the best-airline sweepstakes. For the ninth consecutive year, it earned the highest scores among all big U.S. airlines in the J.D. Power annual customer satisfaction ranking. And second-place Southwest outscored the top network carrier, Alaska, which in turn outscored all three of the giant legacy airlines. These results raise two questions, both easily answered.
Why does JetBlue do so well? Let’s see—low fares, the industry’s most generous legroom in coach, one no-charge checked bag, no overbooking, a generous frequent-flyer program, and a low ticket-change fee. What’s not to like?
Why do the giant legacy airlines do so poorly? Mainly because they’re not as interested in being “best” among consumers as are JetBlue, Southwest, and Alaska. Sure, they do lip service to “customer satisfaction,” but what they’re really about is corporate business travel. And here, it’s scope and frequency that matter most—how many places an airline can take you and how often, not how good a service they provide. Scope and frequency have been a big part of the recent push for giant-airline mergers. Offering a good product is secondary—if it’s even that high.
The lesson to ordinary travelers is clear: If you can get where you’re going on Alaska, JetBlue, or Southwest, you’ll enjoy a better product than you get on the giants. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
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