Travelers aren't too pleased with the North American airline industry – especially traditional carriers such as United Airlines and US Airways – pushing down customer satisfaction ratings after two years of improvement.
On a 1,000-point scale, fliers gave airlines an index score of 681, down from 683 last year, according to a survey from J.D. Power and Associates. More than 13,500 passengers weighed in on categories including cost and fees, in-flight services, boarding and deplaning processes, flight crew behavior and more.
"The airline industry is caught between trying to satisfy customers who demand low prices, high-quality service and comfort, and contending with the economic challenges of profitably operating an airline," said Stuart Greif, vice president and general manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power. "Passengers want it all, but they are not necessarily willing to pay for it all."
As a separate category, legacy carriers scored a 647. Alaska Airlines ranked highest for the fifth straight year, followed by Air Canada and Delta Airlines – the only company in the sector whose score rose.
But low-cost carriers saw their score improve for the third year in a row, reaching 754. JetBlue Airways landed its seventh consecutive top seat, followed by Southwest Airlines.
Our colleagues in Travel make a good point about the apparent superiority of cheaper carriers: The 694 score for the lowest-ranking budget airline, Frontier, was still higher than Alaska's 678 first-place finish.
Among customers' top pet peeve: fees for checked baggage. Satisfaction among travelers who had to shell out for the service averaged 85 points lower than their peers.
Low-ranked performers such as United – recently outed as the most complained-about airline in the U.S. by the Transportation Department – struggled with problems with mishandled bags and oversold flights.
Meanwhile, passengers checking in with mobile devices, instead of at the curb, on the computer, or with a kiosk, were happiest. Smartphone check-ins more than doubled last year, according to the survey.
The American airline industry is watching profits slide and fuel costs rise. Major carriers such as US Airways and the bankrupt American Airlines are facing calls for consolidation.