“Ladies and Gentlemen, the Captain has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign. If you haven’t already done so, please stow your carry-on luggage underneath the seat in front of your or in the overhead bin. Please take your seat and fasten your seat belt as you learn that airline satisfaction has climbed to record highs according to the latest J.D. Power 2019 North American Airline Satisfaction Study.”

A combination of newer planes, better ticket value and improved customer touchpoints have driven overall satisfaction with airlines to its highest point in history, up 11 points (on a 1,000-point scale) from last year’s record-setting performance. The surge is driven by significant improvements among traditional carriers, while satisfaction slowed with low-cost carriers.

Among traditional carriers, Alaska Airlines ranks highest for the 12th consecutive year, with a score of 801. Delta Air Lines (788) ranks second and American Airlines (764) ranks third. Among low-cost carriers, JetBlue Airways (817) and Southwest Airlines (817) rank highest in a tie. For Southwest, this is the third consecutive year at the top of the J.D. Power ranking.

Another survey, American Customer Satisfaction Index recorded similar rankings, but on a different scale (0-100) as illustrated in the graph below. Both surveys had JetBlue and Southwest Airlines tied for second place! What is the chance of that? Because the bivariate scatter plot indicated a linear relationship between the customer satisfaction of both surveys, we performed linear regression to determine the strength of the relationship. The overall model was significant (R-Squared = 0.928, t-Statistic 8.85 p < .001).

Its important to stress that improving airline customer satisfaction and financial performance do not necessarily go hand in hand. In many cases an airline’s customer satisfaction level are inversely related to profits. The higher the profits, the worse the scores. The more modest the profits, the higher the customer satisfaction.

Airline Customer Satisfaction measured by Two Independent Indices in 2018

Source: J.D. Power 2018 North American Airline Study and the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The relative size of a bubble depicts Revenue Passenger Miles in 2018. Included in the rankings by J.D. Power but not shown here are Air Canada (729) and WestJet (758). Allegiant (71) is not shown, although it is found in the rankings of the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

Interestingly, the 21 Scheduled Domestic Passenger Airlines reported a pre-tax operating profit of $13.2 billion in 2018, down almost 26% from $17.8 billion in 2017. We plan to follow up with a more detailed post on the performance of the airlines in future. Further details on the two customer satisfaction indices are provided below.

American customer index scores for airlines in the US 1995 to 2019. The American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) scores on a 0-100 scale at the national level with 100 being the highest and best possible score. The ACSI is an economic indicator based on modeling of customer evaluations of the quality of goods and services purchased in the United States and produced by both domestic and foreign firms with substantial U.S. market shares. Subjects of investigation are 10 economic sectors, 47 industries (including e-commerce and e-business), more than 225 companies, and over 200 federal or local government services.

The North America Airline Satisfaction Study, now in its 15th year, measures passenger satisfaction with airline carriers in North America based on performance in seven factors (in order of importance): cost and fees; in-flight services; aircraft; boarding/deplaning/baggage; flight crew; check-in; and reservation. The study measures passenger satisfaction among both business and leisure travelers and is based on responses from 5,966 passengers who flew on a major North American airline between March 2018 and March 2019. The study was fielded from April 2018 through March 2019.

Details of the Rating Factors used in the North American Airline Satisfaction Study (2019)

Overall SatisfactionThe score is based on how passengers rate their overall satisfaction with the airline.
Reservation ExperienceThis score is based on how passengers rate the promptness in speaking to a representative, courtesy of telephone reservation staff, ease of booking, availability of booking options/travel packages, knowledge of telephone reservation staff, ease of navigation, appearance/design of the website and usefulness of the information on the website.
Check-in ExperienceThis score is based on how passengers rate the speed of the check-in process. staff courtesy, staff knowledge, convenience of kiosk location and ease of checking in.
Boarding ExperienceThis is how passengers rate the convenience of boarding process, courtesy of gate staff, availability of timely flight information within terminal, timeliness of boarding/deplaning and timeliness of baggage retrieval.
Aircraft ExperienceThis score is based on how passengers rate the comfort/condition of seat, availability of overhead storage. roominess/legroom of sear area and cleanliness/condition of aircraft.
Staff ExperienceThis score is based on how passengers rate the courtesy /friendliness of crew, usefulness of in-flight updates and appearance /attire of crew.
Service ExperienceThis score is based on how passengers rate the variety of inflight entertainment available, variety of food and beverage, availability of in-flight services and quality of in-flight services provided.
Cost and Fees ExperienceThis score is based on how passengers rate the price paid for fare and price paid for flight services.