Some aspects of air travel are inevitable: The long lines, the borderline molestation of the security checkpoints, the stale air and elbow-space-battles with strangers. Others can be controlled to assuage some of this misery and improve passenger experience.
J.D. Power and Associates recently released its 2012 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, which rates air carriers on customer experience factors including reservation, check-in, boarding, aircraft, staff, service, cost and fees.
The overall trend, based on nearly 14,000 passenger evaluations, is evidenced in unsurprising results: Ratings for legacy carriers have slipped since 2011, and low-cost airlines have improved in customer satisfaction for the third year in a row.
All of the traditional airlines fell short of the mark set by their no-frills counterparts, and even the highest-ranked legacy carrier fell below the lowest-ranked discount carrier.
JetBlue Airways ranked No. 1 for the seventh consecutive year. Southwest Airlines ranked second, while AirTran Airways (which Southwest recently acquired, though has not yet incorporated into its fleet) came in at fourth.
Among traditional carriers, Alaska Airlines ranked highest in the study for a fifth consecutive year, followed by Air Canada and Delta Airlines. Continental Airlines (pre-merger) ranked No. 4, with "about average" consumer ratings; meanwhile, United Airlines ranked sixth with just two J.D. Power Circles.
All of the traditional airlines fell short of the mark set by their no-frills counterparts, and even the highest-ranked legacy carrier (Alaska, at 678 points on a 1,000-point scale) fell below the lowest-ranked discount carrier (Frontier Airlines, at 694 points).
As Stuart Greif, J.D. Power and Associates vice president and general manager of the global travel and hospitality practice, acknowledged in a statement, "The airline industry is caught between trying to satisfy customers who demand low prices, high-quality service and comfort, and contending with the economic challenges of profitably operating an airline."
But if the no-frills approach consistently wins out, it seems prudent for those legacy carriers to take note of their discount counterparts — or step up the game on service experience.