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Client Satisfaction Takes Nosedive in Airline Survey

Posted by Joshua Hebert on Jul 6, 2009 1:54:00 PM

Passenger satisfaction with airlines has declined for the third year in a row, landing at a four-year low, according to an industry-wide study released Tuesday.

The J.D. Power and Associates 2009 North America Airline Satisfaction Study found that passengers are less satisfied overall with their travel experiences. In particular, passengers are unhappy with in-flight services, flight crew and costs and fees. Their disappointment comes even as airlines have improved on-time arrivals and decreased wait times at the ticket counters.

The findings are not surprising considering most airlines instituted fees last year for checked baggage, in-flight beverages and on-board entertainment to offset higher operating costs amid a weakening economy, said Paula Sonkin, vice president of travel and real estate industries at J.D. Power and Associates.

"There's a heck of a lot airlines can do to improve customer satisfaction," Sonkin said. Increasing check-in and boarding efficiencies, for example, can translate to a more pleasant experience for passengers, while airlines also can cut costs by improving their service in those areas, she said.

Some airlines do a better job than others. Among traditional carriers, Alaska Airlines ranks highest in customer satisfaction for the second year in a row. Coming in second and third are Continental Airlines and Delta Airlines, respectively. US Airways demonstrated the worst service.

And for the fourth consecutive year, JetBlue Airways took the top slot among low-cost carriers.

The New York-based airline is the third-largest carrier at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, where it currently offers 37 daily departures to 17 nonstop destinations in the U.S. and the Caribbean. At Palm Beach International Airport in West Palm Beach, JetBlue operates 10 daily departures.

Following JetBlue are Southwest Airlines and WestJet in a tie. Southwest Airlines is the largest carrier at Fort Lauderdale airport, followed closely by Miramar-based Spirit Airlines. Spirit was not included in the J.D. Power study because it's a smaller carrier than others in the low-cost sector.

Despite JetBlue's track record for customer satisfaction, Sonkin says it's likely "competition is going to get more and more fierce" among low-cost carriers.

Southwest is the only airline in the 2009 study to demonstrate overall improvement from 2008.

AirTran Airways and Frontier Airlines ranked the lowest among the five low-cost carriers surveyed.

J.D. Power and Associates measures customer satisfaction based on performance in seven areas: cost and fees, flight crew, in-flight services, aircraft, boarding/deplaning/baggage, check-in and reservation.

The results of the study are based on responses from more than 12,900 passengers who flew on major airlines between April 2008 and May 2009.

- Jaclyn Giovis Staff WriterSun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)

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