Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Thu June 23 2016

Southwest Dominates Recent Customer Satisfaction Survey

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | June 23, 2016

Southwest Dominates Recent Customer Satisfaction Survey

Photo by Paul Thompson

A survey by Airfarewatchdog shows something unexpected: you don’t always have to pay more to get more. The air travel experts surveyed more than 11,000 customers and came away with some surprising results. In terms of value and service, low cost carrier Southwest Airlines is one of the best brands in the business.

Price was a big factor in the level of satisfaction. More than 65 percent of respondents said that they felt that airlines charged too much for tickets. Airfarewatchdog president George Hobica said that despite the results of the survey, air travel is actually cheaper now, when adjusted for inflation, than it has been in the past. "Adjusted for inflation, airfares are actually lower than they were twenty or even ten years ago, on average. And keep in mind that the product is safer than it's ever been, which means that the value of airfare today — if people value safety — is higher than it's ever been. Twenty years ago, you could fly coast-to-coast for $200 round-trip (RT). Today, you can still fly for $200 when there's a sale." 

According to survey respondents, Southwest Airlines leads in almost every major category — 31.9 percent of survey takers called the Dallas-based LCC their favorite airline. Delta came in next, earning favorite carrier status from 19.3 percent of fliers. Southwest rival JetBlue was the top airline according to 11.5 percent of the people asked.

When asked which airline provided the best value, 47 percent of fliers gave Southwest top ranking. JetBlue, at 14.5 percent, was the only other brand to earn more than 10 percent of the vote.

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

Southwest also earned the top spot for its frequent flier program — 29.6 percent of fliers gave its Rapid Rewards program top marks. Delta SkyMiles and American’s AAdvantage came in second and third with 20 and 17 percent respectively.

Perhaps the most telling result had to do with airline flight attendants — 44.5 percent of the survey takers said that Southwest had the friendliest flight attendants. Delta finished in distant second with 14 percent of the vote in this category.

Is Southwest really that much better when it comes to flying on the domestic market? Perhaps people’s perception of the airline is colored by some of its flier-friendly policies. It remains that only major airline that does not charge for checked baggage, and it does not levy fees on people who change their tickets. The lower fares and frequent sales probably also help the airline’s image.

Did Airfarewatchdog make mistakes during this survey? Actually, the results mirror those of the most recent American Customer Satisfaction Index, which saw Southwest and JetBlue in the top spots overall. 

Does this mean that other airlines will start following Southwest’s lead and adopt its most popular policies? Probably not. Other airlines have developed new, vital revenue streams by charging for checked baggage and adding other fees.

One has to wonder, however, why Southwest finished so far ahead of the competition when it came to friendly flight attendants. What can other airlines do to close the gap?


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