Airline Satisfaction is at an All-Time High. No, Really

Newer planes, better ticket value and improvements to reservations and check-in are being credited with giving the industry its highest score ever.

Despite shrinking legroom and increased delays, customer satisfaction with America's airlines is apparently at an all-time high.

Released today, J.D. Power's 2019 North America Airline Satisfaction Study credits newer planes and better ticket value with leading passengers to score major U.S. carriers 773 out of 1,000 points in overall customer satisfaction. (That's an 11 point jump from last year and the eighth consecutive year of improvement.)

Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power, also credits high-tech improvements, like online check-in and self-service kiosks at airports, for making fliers feel better about their overall experience.

"New technology investments have dramatically improved the reservation and check-in process," Taylor said in a statement. "Fleets are newer and travelers generally feel that they are getting great value for their money."

Historically, budget airlines like JetBlue have had the highest levels of customer satisfaction, but low-cost fliers took a slight dip (6 points) from 2018. At the same time traditional carriers saw their score improve 22 points. The overall impression, says Taylor, is that the line between the two industry segments is blurring.

That's also true the air, where in-flight service remains a "stumbling block" for both budget and traditional carriers. "Many airlines still struggle with in-flight entertainment, connectivity, in-seat power and food service," Taylor explains.

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Amenities with the greatest positive effect on customer satisfaction include fresh food, and seatback units with games and live television.

Oddly, some carriers have been removing their seatback entertainment units altogether. Both American and United Airlines have chosen not to include the screens on new planes designed for shorter trips.

"They're heavy and they have to be repaired—and the airlines assume people are using their phones or their tablets anyway," says industry insider John DiScala of Johnny Jet. "But having them makes the airline look luxurious. If they don't, they look really cheap."

Among traditional carriers, Alaska Airlines ranked highest (801) for the 12th consecutive year, with Delta Air Lines (788) in second and American Airlines (764) in third. In last place was United Airlines, earning a score of 723 points—well below the average of 763 points.

JetBlue (817) and Southwest (817) tied for first place among low-cost carriers. Bringing up the rear was Frontier Airlines with 702 points, far below the segment average of 793.

Based on responses from 5,966 passengers who flew on a major U.S. airline between March 2018 and March 2019, the North America Airline Satisfaction Study measures airline satisfaction based on cost and fees; in-flight services; aircraft; boarding/deplaning/baggage; flight crew; check-in; and reservation.