Airlines Getting Better Customer Satisfaction Ratings

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Overall customer satisfaction with North American airlines improved last year after three consecutive years of declines, according to a new survey by J.D. Power and Associates.

This comes despite an increase in fees, including for checked baggage. The findings suggest that while passengers may dislike add-on fees, they are gradually starting to accept them.

"The fact that overall satisfaction with airlines has improved is particularly notable in light of a difficult economic year, in which add-on fees have continued to proliferate and two major airlines have merged," said Stuart Greif, vice president and general manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power and Associates.

The 2010 North America Airline Satisfaction Study finds that overall customer satisfaction with airlines in 2010 has improved to a three-year high of 673 on a 1,000-point scale, up 15 points from 2009.

The study measures overall customer satisfaction based on performance in seven measures including cost and fees and in-flight services. Things fliers say they particularly like include better on-time performance and fewer lost bags.

Alaska Airlines ranks highest among the traditional carriers for the third consecutive year, J.D. Power says. Continental Airlines and American Airlines, respectively, follow Alaska Airlines in the rankings. Continental Airlines performs particularly well in the in-flight services measure.

As for the low-cost carriers, for a fifth consecutive year, JetBlue Airways ranks highest in that segment. JetBlue Airways performs particularly well in two of the seven measures: aircraft and in-flight services. Following JetBlue are Southwest Airlines and WestJet, respectively.

AirTran showed improvement, raising its score. Among the big carriers, Delta saw customer satisfaction drop, but only by a point.

The study finds overall customers assigned to a middle seat are on average 16 points less satisfied than those with a window or aisle seat. And if you're a frequent flyer who doesn't get a choice seat you'll be even less satisfied.

Among those flying with the traditional carriers, 65 percent say that complimentary meals is the in-flight amenity they would most like to have. Approximately 56 percent of passengers of low-cost carriers say the same.

Nearly half of passengers say the prices for in-flight food and beverages, checked baggage and preferred seating are unreasonably high.

The survey also found on average three in five airline passengers check baggage. And those who are not charged for their first checked bag are much happier than those who are.

The 2010 North America Airline Satisfaction Study measures customer satisfaction of both business and leisure passengers. The study is based on responses from more than 12,300 passengers who flew on a major North American airline between April 2009 and April 2010.
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