Last updated: 11:12 AM ET, Tue April 26 2016

How Did Airlines Fare in The 2016 American Consumer Satisfaction Index?

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | April 26, 2016

How Did Airlines Fare in The 2016 American Consumer Satisfaction Index?

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

The American Customer Satisfaction Index is an annual ranking of major companies in the country, based on extensive surveying of consumers. The index includes a ranking of many of the travel industry’s top brands, including major American air carriers.

Unexpected results?

The results of this year’s ACSI report on the airline industry might be somewhat surprising to casual travelers. According to the ACSI, airlines are doing better now than they have done at any point over the past two decades. The introduction to the report explains that “airlines have long been one of the lowest-scoring industries in the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI), but the last four years have been among its best. Customer satisfaction with airlines is up 4.3% to 72 [on a scale of 0 to 100], matching its peak from 1994.”

What is the reason for this change? Now that airlines have returned to profitability, they can invest in improving flier experiences. Some, like JetBlue with its cabin upgrades and American with its new airport lounges, are trying to compete by offering a better customer experience (instead of only competing on price). 

READ MORE: Priceline Is The Most Satisfying To Travelers, According to Study

These efforts have helped the overall customer satisfaction levels in the industry. 

Actually, some of the most notorious airlines have improved drastically in terms of customer satisfaction. Both Frontier and Spirit are still near the bottom of the rankings, but they showed the biggest improvement of any of the airlines. Spirit scored 62 points (on a scale of 0 to 100) and Frontier came in with 66. These numbers put them at the bottom of the rankings along with Allegiant Airlines. However, the scores represent a 15 percent (Spirit) and 14 percent (Frontier) improvement over 2015's survey results. Allegiant, meanwhile, had the exact same score (65) for both last year and this year. 

Who was at the top? 

JetBlue and Southwest both scored the highest with 80 points each. They were much higher than the industry average of 72 points. Alaska, American and Delta also came out above average with 77, 72 and 71 points, respectively. United showed a 13 percent improvement compared to last year, but finished slightly below average with 68 points. 

Breaking down the numbers

The ACSI airline index also looked at how well airlines performed in specific categories. A couple of areas stood out in this year’s rankings. First of all, more people with satisfied with the comfort level of their seats this year. Of all categories, “seat comfort” had the highest level of dissatisfaction, but there were signs of improvement. In 2015, this particular category had an overall satisfaction score of 64. This year, that stepped up to 67, which was still the lowest score, but also the biggest positive change of any category. 

Quality of in-flight services also improved (from 69 to 71), while fewer people were satisfied with their frequent flier programs (down to 73 from 74 points in 2015). 

READ MORE: ACSI Report Finds Hotel Guest Satisfaction Down in 2016

Getting better overall

What were people the most satisfied with? “Ease of check-in process” scored 81 points this year, while “ease of making a reservation" came in with 80 points. Next came “courtesy and helpfulness of flight crew” (perhaps a surprise for some) at 79 points. 

So overall — despite complaints about a la carte pricing, shrinking seat sizes and fares that do not correspond with low fuel costs — fliers are more satisfied with their air travel experience this year than they were last year. This is even the case on airlines that have long been notorious for their inability to provide a satisfactory flying experience. 


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