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New Study Says Airlines ‘Need Improvement’

According to the just-released J.D. Powers 2013 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, U.S.-based flyers are more satisfied with the overall travel experience, and the most satisfied they’ve been since 2006.

That’s been the gist of the headlines reporting on the study. But really, how much more satisfied are they?

From the J.D. Powers news release:

Overall satisfaction improves to 695 (on a 1,000-point scale), a 14-point increase from 2012. Low-cost carriers continue to outperform traditional carriers, improving to 755, one point higher than in 2012. However, traditional carriers improve to 663–16 points higher than in 2012–the highest level in more than five years and a level of performance consistent with the period before the introduction of baggage and other fees.

A 14-point increase on a 1,000-point scale? By my calculation, that’s a 1.4 percent change, which could well be within the study’s margin of error.

Hardly a significant change. And if we were assigning letter grades, the airlines as a group still scored a decidedly lackluster D+.

Among “traditional” carriers, Alaska was top-ranked, with a score of 717. Next, in descending order, were Delta (682 points), Air Canada (671), American (660), United (641), and US Airways (630).

In the low-cost carrier segment, JetBlue scored highest, with 787 points, followed by Southwest (770), WestJet (714), Frontier (708), and AirTran (705). Spirit and Virgin America were not included in the study.

While expectations clearly play a major role in the discrepancy, the difference between the low-cost carriers, with an average score of 755 points, and the full-service airlines, which averaged just 663, was telling. The message: Traditional airlines overpromise and underdeliver.

Expectations are also a factor in another noteworthy finding: Travelers seem to be increasingly tolerant of baggage fees. That’s reflected in the narrowing satisfaction gap between those who paid bag fees and those who didn’t, and by the percentage of respondents who found the fees reasonable, which rose to 37 percent from 28 percent last year and 18 percent in 2011.

That shows that, for better or worse, travelers are adaptable. Which we didn’t need a study to confirm.

But since there is a study, it’s worth pointing out that its headline shouldn’t stress “improved” so much as it should “needs improvement.”

Reader Reality Check

Has your satisfaction with air travel improved measurably over the past year?

This article originally appeared on

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