Study says airline mergers hurt customer satisfaction scores

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A national study on customer satisfaction suggests that passenger satisfaction ratings slump after airlines undergo a merger with another carrier.

The nation’s top airlines received a combined score of 69 on a 1-to-100 scale, below the average scores for banks, insurance companies, gas stations, hotels and the U.S. Postal Service, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index, an annual study released Tuesday.

The airlines’ score remained the same from last year’s customer satisfaction score. New York-based JetBlue was the highest-ranked airline, with a score of 79, according to the index.


The report also looked at airline satisfaction scores over the last 17 years and concluded that passenger scores often slump in the year or two after airlines undergo a merger with another carrier.

“We’ve seen time and time again the impact mergers have on customer satisfaction,” said Claes Fornell, founder of the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

The slump may be the result of glitches when airlines try to combine reservation systems or loyalty reward programs, said David VanAmburg, managing director of the satisfaction index.

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According to the index, the customer satisfaction scores for Delta Air Lines dipped from 64 in 2009 to 56 in 2011, after its merger with Northwest Airlines.

In the year after Southwest Airlines acquired AirTran Airways, its satisfaction score dropped from 81 in 2011 to 77 the following year, according to ACSI.


As American Airlines prepares to merge with US Airways to create the world’s largest carrier, Fornell predicts American “may also see a slump in satisfaction.”

American Airlines officials say they are working hard to ensure it doesn’t happen.

“Customer service is going to be the hallmark of the new American,” said American Airlines spokesman Casey Norton. “That starts now. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we’re making sure customers will see the benefits of the merger as soon as possible.”

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