Alaska and JetBlue are good, but customers’ overall satisfaction with airlines falls

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Baggage and other fees frustrate us, and pricey tickets make us petulant. In fact, the flying public is so annoyed that satisfaction with airlines fell for the third year in a row, hitting a four-year nadir, a new survey found.

Blame it on the economy.

“Twenty-nine percent of overall satisfaction is driven by pricing and costing,” said Paula Sonkin, vice president for travel and real estate industries for J.D. Power and Associates, the company in Westlake Village that released the report today. “Given the economy and the fact that 29% is the cost and all the fees… it’s not surprising that satisfaction went down again.”

But there are bright spots. Based on a 1,000-point scale, among traditional carriers, Alaska has become a flier favorite, scoring 671, followed by Continental (669). And JetBlue (750) continues to be the low-cost darling, with Southwest and WestJet close behind (both at 736).

Customers found much to love about these carriers, including the flight crew (Alaska), in-flight services (Continental), the aircraft (JetBlue) and costs and fees (Southwest).

At the bottom of the traditional carriers: United (604) and US Airways (599). For low-cost airlines: Frontier (692) and AirTran (687). Where airlines differentiate themselves, Sonkin said, is customer service. Carriers that do well focus on operations and customer service. “The real key is learning how to align the two [areas],” she said.