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The 8 Most (and Least) Loved Airlines. Really!

For all their surveys and focus groups, you have to wonder whether companies really understand how they’re perceived by their customers. Of course, the problem with United asking people “How do you feel about United?” is that there’s a natural reluctance to engage in direct or face-to-face criticism.

Our propriety overcomes our honesty, and the truth is obscured.

One way to circumvent that obstacle is by measuring opinion indirectly, by observing consumers’ behavior in the wild, with no distortion from the observer effect.

That’s the idea behind Diffbot, an online service that uses artificial intelligence to crawl the web and gather and analyze data. (It’s used by Adobe, eBay, and Cisco, among others, so the service has proven its utility.)

For its just-released Travel Report, Diffbot “combs forums and comment sections of the most popular travel websites and tells us what people really say about their travel experiences.”

What they really say? Do tell!

Airline Winners & Losers

Among the most-discussed airlines, Alaska Airlines was commented on most favorably while British Airways was the most negatively viewed. The full list, from most to least positive:

  • Alaska
  • Delta
  • Virgin America
  • American
  • Lufthansa
  • United
  • Southwest
  • British Airways

It’s not surprising to see Alaska and Virgin America among the top performers. They’re perennial crowd-pleasers. But Delta? Even more surprising is Southwest’s near-bottom placing. According to one featured comment, “This isn’t Herb Kelleher’s Southwest Airlines any more. He’s rolling over in his grave. Has been for some time now.” Is the LUV airline losing some of its hold on travelers’ hearts?

Overall, six of the airlines perceived positively, against two that were viewed negatively. That in itself is a bit surprising, given the amount of negative coverage the airlines receive in the media.

No Love for Hotels

Among “hotel options,” only two companies were viewed positively, W hotels and the airbnb lodging-rental service. The other five traditional hotel groups were perceived negatively.

The list, again from best to worst:

  • W
  • airbnb
  • Westin
  • Hyatt
  • Sheraton
  • Marriott
  • Hilton

The Pink Mustache Rules

As with the hotels, when it came to “car options,” more companies rated negative overall on the Sentiment Index than rated positive (Lyft, Enterprise).

The list:

  • Lyft
  • Enterprise
  • Uber
  • Avis
  • Hertz

Similar to airbnb’s showing in the hotel ratings, the generally positive public perception of Lyft and Uber underscores the challenge faced by traditional rental-car operations against their rivals from the sharing economy.

At least in terms of public perception, Avis’s decades of extra effort seems to have been successful in pushing them past #1 Hertz.

Reader Reality Check


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