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J.D. Power Study: Airlines Still Need Improvement

J.D. Power is a well-established name in consumer studies, perhaps best known for its annual customer-satisfaction rankings of car owners, which auto manufacturers regurgitate ad nauseum in their advertising.

But at least in its surveys of airline passengers, the company’s glass-half-full orientation tends to undermine the credibility of its findings.

In last year’s North America Airline Satisfaction Study, J.D. Power interpreted a 1.4 percent improvement in passenger satisfaction as a strong signal that the airline industry was headed in the right direction. Most media coverage of the survey simply repurposed the “Things Are Getting Better” headline, perpetuating the highly debatable notion that everything was just peachy at 30,000 feet.

J.D. Power released its 2014 North America Airline Satisfaction Study. And once again, a tiny uptick in satisfaction is being taken as cause for an effusion of happy talk.

Bloomberg gushes, “Passengers Happier Than Ever with Airlines Even with Fees.” At CNBC, it’s “Fliers’ Satisfaction with Airlines Hits Record High.”

What are they crowing about? According to the J.D. Power news release: “At a time when the cost to fly is rising due to airline consolidation, fuel costs, additional taxes and fees, and new efforts by airlines to increase revenue, overall passenger satisfaction with airlines is at a record high of 712 (on a 1,000-point scale), a 17-point increase from 2013.” So, a 2.4 percent improvement. Sure, that’s an improvement, but it barely moves the needle.

And as J.D. Power points out, “Despite improvements, airline satisfaction continues to significantly trail hotels (777) and rental cars (775), as well as many other industries, including credit card (767) and mortgage lenders (771).” In other words, improvement or not, the airlines are doing a pretty lousy job of satisfying their customers.

Here’s how the individual airlines rated overall, based on passenger satisfaction in cost and fees, in-flight services, boarding/deplaning/baggage, flight crew, aircraft, check-in, and reservations:

Mainline Carriers

  • “Among the Best”: Alaska
  • “Better Than Most”: Delta
  • “About Average”: Air Canada, American
  • “The Rest”: United, US Airways

Low-Cost Carriers

  • “Among the Best”: JetBlue, Southwest
  • “The Rest”: AirTran, Frontier, WestJet

Reader Reality Check

How satisfied are you with the airline industry: more, less, the same?

This article originally appeared on

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