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Travelers More Satisfied with Airlines

How satisfied are travelers with the airlines?

The latest edition of the American Customer Satisfaction Index, an independent benchmarking service developed at the University of Michigan, was released today. And the results were a rare bit of good news for flyers.

Airlines have long been one of the lowest-scoring industries in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), but the last four years have been among its best. Customer satisfaction with airlines is up 4.3% to 72, matching its peak from 1994.

Note, however, that the airlines’ 72 score is on a scale of 100, on which the hotels as a group scored 74 points, and Internet travel services scored 79. So while the trend is a positive one, the airlines still lag other areas of the travel universe. And among the individual airlines, the scores vary widely:

  • JetBlue (80)
  • Southwest (80)
  • Alaska (77)
  • All others (73)
  • American (72)
  • Delta (71)
  • United (68)
  • Frontier (66)
  • Allegiant (65)
  • Spirit (62)

RELATED: Yet Another Survey Picks Virgin America as Best Airline

While Spirit remains at the bottom of the heap, it’s worth noting that the carrier managed a 15-point improvement from last year’s score. It would appear that the ultra-low-cost airline’s recent efforts to put a friendlier face on its bare-bones service have been at least partially successful.

Here are the highest and lowest rated of the airlines’ services:

  • Ease of check-in (81)
  • Ease of booking flights (80)
  • Courtesy/helpfulness of flight crew (79)
  • Timely arrival (79)
  • Website satisfaction (79)
  • Boarding experience (78)
  • Baggage handling (77)
  • Call center (75)
  • Flight schedules (75)
  • Loyalty program (73)
  • Inflight services (71)
  • Seat comfort (67)

Although no surprise, the standout finding here is the low score for seat comfort. Even with a 5-point increase over last year’s score, seating—which is a key determinant of the overall flying experience—remains an area of particular dissatisfaction.

More surprising is the score for loyalty programs, which only dropped 1 point from last year’s, in spite of the devaluation of Delta and United’s programs following their conversion to revenue-based earning schemes.

That might point to a larger truth about satisfaction scores and trends: As services deteriorate, consumers lower their expectations, and satisfaction scores rise.

Reader Reality Check

How have your travel expectations changed over time?

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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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