J.D. Power gives low-fare airlines high marks for service

March 18, 2012|By Hugo Martin
  • Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America airlines were recognized for their service.
Southwest, JetBlue and Virgin America airlines were recognized for their… (Associated Press )

Low-cost airlines that cut out many of the extras might not be expected to get high marks for service — just as fast food is not as likely to win culinary awards.

But J.D. Power and Associates’ “2012 Customer Service Champions” did not include such long-established carriers like Delta, United or American airlines among the 50 companies from various industries that won the distinction this year based on value, service and other measures. 

Instead, the report listed low-cost airlines Southwest, JetBlue and San Francisco-based upstart Virgin America as the only carriers to win the award. The list of champions was chosen based on customer feedback and perceptions gathered from J.D. Power's research between 2000 and 2011.

In an era when Americans stress getting the most for their money, the three airlines were chosen in part because of the savings they offer passengers, said Stuart Greif, vice president for global travel for Westlake Village-based J.D. Power and Associates.

He noted that Southwest charges no fee to check two bags and that JetBlue lets passengers check the first bag for free. But he said the award was also based on surveys that asked passengers to rate the quality of customer service offered to passengers.

“Regardless of how low a cost or high a cost, the question is how are you executing your business,” he said. “Loyalty is won or lost in delighting your customers.”

Anne Banas, executive editor of the travel website Smarter Travel, said she was not surprised by the J.D. Power choices because Southwest and JetBlue regularly receive high praise in her website’s reader surveys and Virgin America gets glowing reviews from website editors for the airline’s in-flight entertainment and food service.

But she said larger airlines may be getting poor reviews in surveys because they give better service to first-class and business-class passengers than to customers in coach seating.

“The economy experience is terrible on legacy airlines,” Banas said, adding that crews on Southwest and JetBlue planes seem friendlier to coach and economy passengers. “A lot of times they are just nicer.”


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