Despite recent headlines, new research claims that overall customer satisfaction with airlines has reached its highest level ever.

Despite recent headlines, new research claims that overall customer satisfaction with airlines has reached its highest level ever.

According to the J.D. Power 2017 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, this trend is being driven by lower fares, better on-time performance, fewer lost bags and the lowest bump rate ever.

“It’s impossible to think about airline customer satisfaction without replaying the recent images of a passenger being dragged from a seat, but our data shows that, as a whole, the airline industry has been making marked improvements in customer satisfaction across a variety of metrics, from ticket cost to flight crew.”

By Michael Taylor, travel practice lead at J.D. Power

He added: “As recent events remind us, however, airlines have significant room for improvement. Airlines still rank among the bottom tier of most service industries tracked by J.D. Power, far lower than North American rental car companies or hotels.”

The research finds that scores are higher this year than one year ago in all of the study factors that measure customer satisfaction.

 In numbers

These are some of the key findings of the 2017 study:

  • Overall satisfaction reaches for the sky: Overall satisfaction with the airline industry in 2017 has increased by a significant 30 points to 756 (on a 1,000-point scale), continuing a trend of steady performance increases that began in 2013. Both traditional and low-cost carriers have shown improvement, with the traditional carriers continuing to close the satisfaction gap with low-cost carriers (740 vs. 784, respectively).
  • Lower costs, fewer problems, satisfaction with crews drive improvement: The average North American airfare fell 8.5% in 2016 to $349, helping to drive satisfaction levels in the cost and fees factor in the study to the highest level since 2006. Improved on-time performance, fewer lost bags, historically low bump rates and high scores for flight crews also contribute to the overall increase in airline customer satisfaction.
  • Social media is feedback tool of choice: Among business travellers, 21% posted a comment about their airline experience on social media, while 8% of leisure travellers did the same. It is worth noting that nearly three-quarters of social media comments are described as “positive” by those posting. The most commonly used social media platforms are Facebook (81%) and Twitter (41%). When an airline responds to any social media post — whether it’s positive or negative — there is a noteworthy 121-point lift in passenger satisfaction.
  • “Ladies and gentlemen, the overhead bins are full…”: After a slight dip in 2016, passenger problems with overhead storage has become more common, with 14% of passengers in 2017 reporting this as an issue on their flight. Satisfaction among flyers having difficulty with overhead storage is 82 points lower than among those who don’t have difficulty.  The problem is inversely related to age, as travellers in younger generations are more likely to experience a problem with overhead storage than are older travellers.
  • Bumping occurs infrequently — but significantly affects satisfaction: Although instances of denial of boarding and re-booking to another flight (bumping) have reached historic lows in frequency, they have the greatest negative influence on overall satisfaction. However, when there are delays, such as those caused by weather or mechanical issues, satisfaction levels fall by 101 points when a traditional carrier is delayed and by 59 points when a low-cost carrier is delayed.