Airline satisfaction climbs a bit; hotels fare better
Satisfaction with airlines has increased slightly, but poor airline service remains a problem, an annual survey of travelers released Tuesday shows.
Travelers rate airlines 3% higher than last year in the American Customer Satisfaction Index, which measures travelers’ satisfaction with products and services during the first quarter of each year.
On a scale of zero to 100, travelers give airlines an average satisfaction score of 69 ? two points higher than a year ago.
The improvement is not a reason to rejoice, though, because “air travel remains a rather uncomfortable and costly experience for most passengers,” says Claes Fornell, founder of the index, which surveyed 1,661 passengers by telephone and e-mail between Jan. 21 and March 17.
Of 43 industries measured this year and last year by the satisfaction index, “only subscription TV and Internet service providers have lower levels of customer satisfaction,” he says.
Business travelers’ satisfaction with airlines increases for a second consecutive year ? from 61 in 2011, to 66 last year, to 69 this year. Despite the gains, business travelers “demand more” and are less satisfied than non-business fliers.
For a second consecutive year, JetBlue ranks No.1 in passenger satisfaction. Its 83 score is two points higher than last year.
Southwest Airlines ranks No.2 this year with an 81 score, four points higher than a year ago.
JetBlue and Southwest “do a good job in keeping consumer expectations to what they actually can deliver,” he says. The airlines offer no-frills service but “get passengers and their luggage to the destination on time and at a low price.”
United Airlines receives the lowest average satisfaction score ? 62 ? the same score as last year, when it also finished at the bottom. US Airways has the second-lowest score, 64.
United, which announced a merger with Continental Airlines in 2010, has been unable to achieve the much higher scores Continental received before the merger.
“The merger with Continental has done little to change things for the better,” Fornell says.
US Airways, which announced a merger with American Airlines early this year, “is not as good as other airlines” in ease of making reservations and boarding flights, he says.
American’s score of 65 is also low. The carrier filed a reorganization plan in bankruptcy court in April.
American’s score is low, because the airline “is probably suffering from a hangover due to its financial difficulties in 2012 that also created many unhappy employees,” Fornell says. “On-time arrivals have been a problem as well.”
Travelers were also surveyed about various aspects of their airline experiences. They are most satisfied with the ease of making a reservation and the ease of the check-in process. They also give high marks for timeliness of arrival and courtesy and helpfulness of flight crew.
Passengers are least satisfied with seat comfort and the quality of in-flight services, including beverage service, food, movies and music.
HOTELS FARED BETTER
Customer satisfaction with hotels is greater than with airlines.
For the third consecutive year, hotels received an average score of 77, the highest score since they were first measured by the satisfaction index in 1994.
“Any time customer satisfaction stagnates, there is cause for concern because it becomes more difficult and more costly to grow repeat business and increase frequency of visits,” Fornell says.
Fornell says hotels “should focus on improving service where it matters most”? room comfort, Internet service, business centers and food service.
Business travelers’ satisfaction with hotels jumps from an average score of 72 last year to 77 this year, the same score as non-business travelers.
Hotel guests surveyed give the lowest average satisfaction score to quality of food services, which includes restaurants, room service and mini-bar items.
Like airlines, hotels receive the highest satisfaction scores for ease of the check-in process and ease of making a reservation.
Marriott ranks No.1 in guest satisfaction, with an average score of 82, two points higher than runner-up Hilton. Last year, Hilton finished No.1 and Marriott No.2.
Wyndham’s 72 score is the lowest, and Choice’s 75 score is the second lowest.
Wyndham, which operates budget brands such as Ramada Inn, Days Inn and Super 8, has received the lowest score every year since 2008, the first year it was evaluated by the customer satisfaction index.
Most hotels of Wyndham and Choice, which has such brands as Clarion, Comfort Inn and Quality Inn, target customers looking for budget or moderately priced rooms, and “are not doing something wrong per se,” Fornell says.
Lower prices in the hotel business do not contribute to higher guest satisfaction,” he says. “In fact, the more the decision to stay in a budget hotel is dictated by consumer budget constraints, the less satisfied the customer is likely to be.”