Don’t get too excited. Although a consumer survey shows that the airline industry has crept up a few notches on the customer happiness scale, the sector as a whole is still uncomfortably close to the bottom of the ocean of 40 rated industries.
The yearly survey, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, asked 70,000 US consumers about their feelings on 40 key industries, from clothing, hospitals and banks to insurance companies and more. The airline industry managed to top only two sectors, television and internet service providers.
Despite their low position airlines have been inching up the scale. Last year the industry scored a not-too-good 67 out of 100 while this year they received an improved 69, a score that represents their highest in almost twenty years.
Low-priced airlines scored higher than major players in the industry. JetBlue topped the list for the second year in a row, up two percent to 83, while Southwest Airlines held the second spot, scoring 81, up five percent since last year. Major airlines generally scored in the 60s.
“Airlines continue to improve service for business travelers,” said survey founder and Chairman Claes Fornell.
The survey showed that while certain aspects of the industry were highly rated, such as making reservations, check-in, timeliness, baggage handling and crew courtesy. The main element of flying however, the flight itself, was considered by consumers to be an unpleasant experience.
“Passengers reserve their harshest criticism for the principal part of the experience – the flight itself,” the report said. Food and beverage service, entertainment and worst of all, seat comfort were all rated poorly.
The hope that these aspects of flying will change is a dim hope, Fornell says.
“The cost structure for airlines – high fixed costs and large variations in fuel price – coupled with high price sensitivity for a large segment of the market, make it difficult to improve quality of service.”
“Also, as long as all airlines are bad, they will not be punished much by customer defections.”