US budget airlines beat out full-service carriers

Peter Terlato 1 May 2017

JetBlue airline

JetBlue and Southwest know how to satisfy customers.

Airline travel across the United States has become somewhat more restrictive and heavily scrutinised in recent years; given potential dangers, added technical capabilities and increasing consumer demands. Despite satisfaction levels rising year-on-year, airlines continue to rank much lower than other industries.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), a national economic indicator of the quality of products and services available to household consumers, found passenger satisfaction for airlines rose 4.2%, compared to a year ago, to total 75 out of 100 at the end of March 2017.

However, the report revealed hotels (76 out of 100) and internet travel services (79 out of 100) earned higher overall industry satisfaction ratings than US airlines.

ACSI's 2017 customer rankings identified JetBlue, a low-cost carrier, as the most satisfactory US airline, achieving a score 82 out of 100 (up 2% year-on-year).

The world's largest low-cost carrier, Southwest Airlines, came in second at 80 out of 100. According to the report, the airline continues to please passengers by not charging for flight changes and disclosing all fees. Unlike major carriers, both airlines have a better compensation track record for overbooked flights.

Alaska Airlines ranked third, gaining 1% year-on-year in the ratings to score 78 out of 100.

The country's two largest carriers, American Airlines (up 6% year-on-year) and Delta Air Lines (up 7% year-on-year) both achieved a ranking of 76 out of 100. This result is a record-setting achievement for American Airlines and is also the best satisfaction score Delta has returned in more than 20 years.

United Airline's contentious removal of a passenger, recently captured and broadcast on social media, didn't impact ACSI's results as it occurred after the data was collected. However, the incident will likely play a part in future evaluations as United (70 out of 100) holds the title for lowest ranking legacy airline.

Combined, "all other" smaller airlines scored 74 out 100. Allegiant was the most improved (up 9% year-on-year), while Frontier (down 5% year-on-year) and Spirit (down 2% year-on-year) declined in the rankings.

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