ACSI Report: Customer Satisfaction with Airlines Remains Low

The ability to create a satisfied customer remains elusive for most airlines according to a report from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) on airlines, hotels, and Internet travel agencies. Airlines score 69 on the ACSI’s 100-point scale, which anchors the category at the bottom of ACSI along with subscription TV, social media and the IRS.

Poor in-flight service and lack of seat comfort are two of the major culprits behind the dismal performance with scores of 67 and 63, respectively. On the other hand, passengers are pleased with the check-in process and ease of booking, which both weigh-in at 82.

“Travelers are happy with airlines before they get on the plane. Even areas that might be considered stereotypical customer pain points, like late departures and arrivals and baggage handling, score high these days,” said David VanAmburg, ACSI managing director. “The one area that continues to plague airlines is the in-flight experience, which can really sour satisfaction with the airline overall.”

Low-Cost Carriers Remain on Top; Big Gain for Delta

Despite a 5% decline from last year, JetBlue, at 79, remains the highest scoring airline with an ACSI score of 79. Southwest drops 4% but comes in close behind Jet Blue at 78. Delta improves the most with a 4% increase to 71. US Airways, up 3%, and American Airlines, up 2%, both at 66, tie near the bottom.

After the 2010 merger with Continental, United is still struggling with passenger service. It has the lowest ACSI score (60) in the industry following a 3% decline.

“We’ve seen time and time again the negative impact mergers have on customer satisfaction. American Airlines may also see a slump in satisfaction as it combines operations with US Airways,” said Claes Fornell, ACSI Founder.  “Southwest led the industry for 17 years until it merged with Airtran in 2011 and Delta is just now recovering from its 2008 merger with Northwest.”

Overall Hotel Industry Drop Due to Dwindling Guest Satisfaction with Midscale and Budget Chains

Hotels decrease 2.6% to an ACSI score of 75. Less availability and quality of hotel amenities, Internet service, and in-room entertainment contribute to the decline.

“Hotels have raised rates as the economy is getting better but there hasn’t been a corresponding improvement in amenities, according to customers” said VanAmburg. “This is what’s producing the across-the-board deterioration in guest satisfaction.”

Marriott, down 1%, leads the hotel sector with an ACSI score of 81 while other upscale hoteliers, Hilton, Hyatt, and InterContinental, weigh-in at 78. Marriott’s overall guest satisfaction is aided by strong ACSI numbers for its Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott brands at 86 and 83, respectively.

Hotels catering to budget and mid markets fall below the industry average. Best Western’s 6% tumble to 74 reverses its gains over the past five years. Low scores for Wyndham’s budget hotels, Days Inn, Ramada Inn, and Super 8, contribute to its overall score of 72 at the base of the industry.

Satisfaction with Travel Websites is Up But Users Prefer Other Booking Options

Online travel companies, up 1% to an ACSI score of 77, lead in user satisfaction among the travel industries. However, site visitors nevertheless prefer booking directly with airlines and hotels. It is somewhat more demanding to make and pay for reservations on travel websites (ACSI score of 79) compared with hotel (88) and airline (82) websites, according to users. Further, travel sites could do better job with navigation (75) as well as with promotions and package deals (72).

“Airlines and hotels have figured out how to negate the appeal of Internet travel agents by making it easier for customers to navigate and by offering incentives for booking directly on the hotel or airline website,” said Fornell. “Travelers explore options on travel sites, but often go directly to the provider to book. The challenge for travel websites is to close the sale while visitors are on their site. Even with the increased travel website overall satisfaction, this is not an easy thing to do.”

The lack of differentiation among Internet travel companies is reflected in their customer satisfaction. Orbitz has an ACSI score of 77, Expedia (76), Priceline (75), and Travelocity (74).

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