Is U.S. airline service getting better? Or are passengers just becoming more resigned to things as they are?
According to J.D. Power’s just-released 2016 North American Airline Satisfaction Survey, respondents’ satisfaction with their air travel experience is at a 10-year high, reaching an overall score of 726 on the company’s 1,000-point scale, up 9 points from last year.
J.D. Power said the survey of more than 10,000 persons who traveled by air on the past year shows that “airlines are making positive strides by adding value to their products and services with newer and cleaner planes, better in-flight services, improving on-time arrivals and bumping fewer passengers.”
But it also noted that a 12-point improvement this year in satisfaction with costs and fees is partly due to the fact that “passengers are more tolerant of paying ancillary fees such as baggage fees or fees for extra legroom.” It also noted that the score for in-flight services (650) is still “the lowest-scoring factor overall” in satisfaction levels; other factors include costs and fees, boarding/deplaning/baggage, flight crew, aircraft, check-in and the reservations process.
The company observed that for the first time in the survey’s history, business travelers showed a higher satisfaction level than leisure travelers (733 to 725), probably because business travelers are less concerned about price. (Or possibly because airlines have been focusing their product and service improvements on the highest-paying customers.)
The survey splits airlines into “traditional” carriers and “low-cost” carriers, although the distinctions don’t seem as significant as they once did (and for some reason, it does not include Virgin America or Spirit Airlines in the survey). Once again, “low-cost” carriers got the highest overall scores, with JetBlue in first place with 790 – its 12th year at the top of the J.D. Power charts. Southwest scored 789. The highest score for a “traditional” carrier was Alaska at 751.
United had the lowest score among traditional airlines at 675, while Frontier ranked at the bottom in the low-cost category at 662.
In a companion survey on airline loyalty programs – which did not divide the airlines into two categories — the same airlines dominated the results, with Alaska’s Mileage Plan earning the highest score (757) for the third year in a row, followed by Southwest’s Rapid Rewards at 754 and JetBlue’s TrueBlue at 743. United also took the bottom spot in the loyalty survey, with Mileage Plus earning a score of 673.
J.D. Power recognized that loyalty programs at major carriers are changing from mileage-based to spending-based schemes, although it didn’t ask respondents what they thought about that. It said the most significant factor for travelers in rating loyalty programs is still the ease of redeeming points/miles.
The last time we reported on a J.D. Power survey – on hotel loyalty programs – some of our readers expressed skepticism about the entire process. One noted that the results chart “uses an old trick to accentuate differences.” Another charged that it used “far too small a sample,” and a third wrote, “I took a look at what went into the survey, and it’s complete garbage in garbage out.”
What do you think about the airline survey, readers? Are J.D. Power surveys worth reporting on?
NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: United’s newest, longest flight + Tipping Uber drivers + Qantas 747 Trip Report + Confusion over PreCheck policies + No-fee earlier flights