Airlines continue to test our patience and tolerance with new fees. How does a summer surcharge ranging from $10 to $30 sound? According to frequent flier Erika Atkins, "I get pretty frustrated when I think I have found a great deal for a flight, and then I see all of these hidden fees." And Erika is not alone since more than half of Americans have a summer trip planned, and the airlines hope to capitalize by the flurry of travelers.
Yet despite the complaints, customer satisfaction in the airlines industry has noticeably improved according to JD Power and Associates, a California-based research firm. Customer service for the past three years had significantly been on the decline, but based on a 1,000 point scale, ten of the twelve airlines improved their scores. Continental and Alaska Airlines topped the Traditional Network Carrier Segment, and Jet Blue Airways and Southwest Airlines ranked highest among the Low Cost Carrier Segment. Airline assessments were based on seven averages including flight crew, in flight services, and costs and fees.
According to Stuart Greif, vice president and general manager of global traffic and hospitality for JD Power and Associates, "Airlines generally compete based on costs and fees which is necessary to make their organizations stronger in an extremely difficult environment. It's important for carriers to remember, however that building a base of committed passengers is also about creating a travel experience that fosters emotional attachment to a particular carrier, which in turn may make customers willing to flex their schedules or pay a little more for their flight."
United Airlines has made efforts to improve their operations and have been working on their on-time departures. Their overall score increased by 26 points. Most think it is too early to tell if the higher scores are going to signal a turnaround for an industry known for their poor customer service. Factoring in rising airfares, crowded planes and the future merger of United and Continental, customers are hesitant to predict airlines will ever satisfy consumer expectations.
Was the survey influenced by last year's reduced rates because of the economy? Yes, there were fewer complaints about luggage being lost or damaged, but haven't passengers become accustomed to flying with less luggage because of the additional baggage fees? Indeed security lines are now less crowded, but haven't passengers learned how to go through security lines; we pull out our laptops, don't pack liquids, use plastic bags for allowed toiletries, etc.? The lines move a lot faster now. How will the polls rate Continental's in-flight free food service being phased out next year if we fly economy class? Right now 65% of travelers rate complimentary meals as the top in-flight amenity they most like to have included.
Next year's surveys should be even more interesting.