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Customer satisfaction with airlines is up -- but oh those fees

June 08, 2011|By Jane Engle | Los Angeles Times
  • Self-service kiosks have helped shorten lines at some airline ticket counters.
Self-service kiosks have helped shorten lines at some airline ticket counters. (Michael Nagle / Bloomberg )

Customer satisfaction with airlines is nosing up for the second year in a row, but higher fares and fees are creating headwinds, a new survey has found.

The 2011 North America Airline Satisfaction Study released Wednesday by J.D. Power and Associates, a marketing company in Westlake Village, Calif., asked more than 13,500 passengers who flew on North American carriers between July 2010 and April to rate the airlines on costs, fees, crews, in-flight services, check-in and other performance aspects. Airlines and the industry as a whole were rated on a 1,000-point satisfaction scale.

Customer satisfaction with the industry this year bumped up 10 points, to 683, versus 2010. JetBlue Airways, for the sixth year in a row, had the top rating; Alaska Airlines, for the fourth year in a row, was tops among so-called traditional network carriers.

But talk about point spread. The low-cost carriers in the survey -- JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Canada’s WestJet, AirTran Airways and Frontier Airlines -- bested the rest, the seven so-called traditional network carriers, by 100 points on average.

Fees were a sore point with fliers, and that’s where many traditional carriers got dinged.

Satisfaction with non-fare costs, such as bag-check fees, priority boarding and onboard food and entertainment purchases, was down this year for every airline except four in the survey: Southwest, JetBlue, WestJet and Air Canada. None of those four charges for the first checked bag, Stuart Greif, vice president and general manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power, said in an interview.

Coincidence? Probably not. (US Airways scored the lowest on satisfaction with fees.)

When it came to fares, none of the carriers fared well in the survey.

"Airfares have been on the rise," Greif said. "And satisfaction with airfares across every ranked airline is down."

One bright point: The survey found the highest levels of happiness with the check-in and reservation process since 2006. For that you can credit lower traffic and more check-in kiosks, which have shortened "horrendous lines" that once prevailed at ticket desks, Greif said

The happiest check-in customers, he added, were those who did curbside check-in, followed, in order, by check-in online, at self-service kiosks and at the airline counter; the survey didn’t deal with security checkpoints.

Apparently, the human touch is welcome in air travel -- until you get past the curb.

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