People may grumble about baggage fees, flight delays, and lack of legroom, but according to the latest customer satisfaction ratings from J.D. Power & Associates, they are happier with the airline industry’s overall performance than they’ve been in years.
The latest passenger satisfaction ratings are the highest since 2006. People have accepted baggage fees and they like avoiding lines by checking in online and printing boarding passes. They also appreciate Wi-Fi on their flights.
Low-cost carriers deliver more satisfaction
The 2013 North America Airline Satisfaction Survey ranked airlines in two categories: traditional and low-cost carriers. Overall passenger satisfaction rose 14 points from 2012 to an average rating of 695 out of a possible 1,000. Low-cost carriers outperformed traditional carriers. The bargain airlines scored 755 as a group and traditional airlines hit a mark of 663.
How they scored
- JetBlue Airways – 787
- Southwest Airlines – 770
- WestJet – 714
- Frontier Airlines – 708
- AirTran Airways – 705
- Alaska Airlines – 717
- Delta Air Lines – 682
- Air Canada – 671
- American Airlines – 660
- United Airlines – 641
- US Airways – 630
Online check-in and a smile on board make a difference
Over a third of travelers surveyed (36%) take advantage of online check-in when getting ready for a flight, up from 34% in 2012. And those passengers that avoided ticket counters and lines were happier. People who checked in for flights online scored their happiness with the check-in process at 837, compared with 805 for those who checked in at an airport kiosk, and 801 for those who went to the counter.
A friendly attitude from airline staff and flight crews made a difference as well. Folks who reported being greeted with a smile occasionally scored the carriers 105 points higher than those who didn’t. Passengers who got consistent smiles from cabin crews scored the carriers even higher — 211 points more than respondents who didn’t get a warm welcome.
Baggage fees still rankle, but not as much
Although people are still disgruntled about baggage check fees, they appear to be getting used to it. The gap in satisfaction between passengers who paid to check bags and those who didn’t is growing smaller. In 2011, paying for bag check dropped satisfaction rates by 100 points. In 2012, the gap narrowed to 85 points, and this year it’s down to a 63 point difference. When asked whether baggage fees are reasonable, 37% said they felt they were – compared to 28% last year and 18% in 2011.
One way customers can avoid baggage fees is to sign up for aco-branded airline credit card like the , which lets cardholders check their first bag for free on any American Airlines flight. Many other airline credit cards offer this perk too, as well as discounts on food and beverage service, access to airport VIP lounges, and other satisfaction-boosting benefits.