Americans' Satisfaction With Air Travel Falls

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U.S. airlines have what can only be called a mixed relationship with their customers. On one hand, more and more people fly every year. On the other hand, flying does not rate very highly with all those passengers.

In its 2018 survey, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) for air carriers fell from 75 according to 2017’s survey to 73. Where last year airlines ranked above eight other industries, this year they rank above only three. In all, 45 industries are reviewed and ranked.

The top-ranked airline this year is Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV), which matched last year’s second-place score of 80 to take the top spot from JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ: JBLU), which dropped from an index score of 82 to a 2018 score of 79 to tie with Alaska Air Group Inc. (NYSE: ALK), which improved its index by one point this year.

As a group, the airlines’ ACSI score of 73 puts them on a par with health insurers, social media providers, the U.S. Postal Service and wireless phone carriers. Only three industries have lower scores: landline phone service at 70 and internet service providers and pay-TV services, both at 64.

ACSI suggests that higher fuel costs and new labor agreements have forced airlines to raise ticket prices while providing no better than the same service as before. But there may be an even more pervasive reason:

While some of the largest legacy airlines compete with discount carriers on price, the reality is that competition in the airline industry is quite limited. After a spate of recent mergers, almost 80% of the market is now under the control of no more than four operators—and they seem more inclined to collaborate than to compete, thereby reducing the threat of customer defection. For passengers, this means higher prices and less service.

Here are the ACSI scores for the six other U.S. carriers reviewed:

  • Allegiant: 74 (up three points)
  • American: 74 (down two points)
  • Delta: 74 (down two points)
  • United: 67 (down three points)
  • Frontier: 62 (down a point)
  • Spirit: 62 (up a point)

Airline passengers are most satisfied with the ticketing/check-in process (82) and least satisfied with seat comfort (69). Index scores fell on all measures of customer satisfaction except ticketing/check-in, which was unchanged year over year.

The ACSI report on travel also includes index scores on hotels and internet travel services. Visit the ACSI website for the press release and a link to the full report.

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