Americans like the tax collector better than the airlines, according to a survey released today.

Weighed down by delays, grumpy employees and lost bags, U.S. airlines scored 63 out of a possible 100 on the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index. That is a touch below the 65 awarded to the bureaucracy-laden Internal Revenue Service.

The airlines' score, down two points from last year, was the lowest for the industry since 2001 and appears to reflect growing consumer dissatisfaction with the travel industry.

United Airlines, which came out of bankruptcy last year, was at the bottom, falling 7 points from last year to 56. Delta Air Lines, which emerged from bankruptcy April 30, was close behind, falling 5 points to 59. No-frills discount carrier Southwest Airlines led the industry with a score of 76, two points higher than the previous year.

Hotels scored 71, falling four points to their lowest level since 2002, according to the survey.

The airlines' long struggle to return to profitability after a prolonged slump following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, may have led them to cut costs and service too far, one expert said.

"The process took so much out of them — they may have cut beyond the bone," said Claes Fornell, director of the University of Michigan's National Quality Research Center.

Big hotel companies fared a little better than large companies in the airline sector. Marriott International Inc., the top U.S. hotel operator, increased its score 2 points to 79, but smaller chains dragged down the industry's overall score.

The survey focuses on a different group of industries each quarter, surveying about 26,000 people by telephone, then following up on the findings during the same quarter the next year.

For survey results in other industries, see Satisfaction With Purchases Climbs.