Customer Satisfaction with Airlines and Internet Travel Services Drops

Though it’s only April, 2018 has been a tough year for the airline industry. Just in February, Spirit Airlines notoriously forbade a student to bring an emotional support hamster on a flight, and in March, United Airlines forced a passenger to put her dog in an overhead compartment. And it’s not just pet-related problems that plague air travel—ticket costs continue to rise and delays are more common than ever. It’s no surprise, then, that customer satisfaction with airlines has dropped by 2.7 percent year over year to a score of 73 on a scale of 0 to 100, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) 2018 Travel Report.

Among the top airlines, JetBlue took a hit this year, dropping in customer satisfaction by 4 percent. Customer satisfaction with Alaska Airlines grew by a modest 1 percent thanks to a merger with Virgin Atlantic, and satisfaction with Southwest remained steady.

Among smaller airlines, Allegiant Air leads this year with a score of 74, up by 4 percent from last year, which represents the biggest jump in satisfaction, according to the report. However, “despite the satisfaction gain and a strong record of profitability, Allegiant may be heading straight into turbulence following recent high-profile news reporting on mechanical issues and safety concerns that sent its stock tumbling,” according to a statement from ACSI.

Frontier and Spirit Airlines had the lowest scores of the bunch, each earning only 62 points. "The 18-point gap between first place and last place among airlines is fairly typical," David VanAmburg, Managing Director at ACSI, said in a company statement. "Customer satisfaction is going to be lower for the ultra-low-cost carriers, which are focused more on price than quality, and the scores reflect that. The same holds true among hotels. As costs rise and seats shrink, a focus on customer service and loyalty will set some airlines apart."

Passengers are frustrated with many areas of air travel customer service, including making reservations, flight crew courtesy, and baggage handling. Leg room and seat comfort continue to worsen, with satisfaction dropping in this area more than in any other. The check-in process is the only aspect of travel that seems to be on the mend, according to the report.

Internet travel sites such as Expedia are struggling as well—there has been a 1.3 percent drop in satisfaction for the category as a whole. One area consumers are particularly unhappy about is site-generated recommendations. According to ACSI’s findings, the sites’ search engines aren’t delivering the results that travelers expect.

Hotels, meanwhile, have stepped up their game. As Airbnb puts pressure on the hotel industry, top performers such as Hilton and Marriott are working to improve service. Each gained 1 percent in customer satisfaction scores.


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