Airlines have undoubtedly been hit hard as passenger volume plummeted due to the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year-plus but it isn’t all bad news as the industry will begin its recovery with record-high customer satisfaction.
According to the J.D. Power 2021 North America Airline Satisfaction Study released Wednesday, passenger satisfaction rose 27 points to 819 on the 1,000-point scale year over year. The jump was driven by an incredible 47-point increase in customer satisfaction with cost and fees as most carriers issued travel waivers allowing passengers to change or cancel tickets without penalty.
Passengers have also been pleased with the performance of flight crews during this challenging period, with satisfaction in that category increasing 26 points. According to J.D. Power, all North American airlines fared well in terms of customer feedback regarding their responses to the pandemic. Face mask requirements and other enhanced health and safety measures have been in place for more than a year now.
Delta Air Lines ranks highest in customer satisfaction for the first time since 1995, earning a North American-leading score of 860. The carrier has ranked toward the top of several safety studies amid the pandemic and was the last to continue limiting capacity to keep middle seats open for physical distancing on every flight. Last year’s top-ranked airline, budget-friendly Southwest Airlines (856) ranks second in passenger satisfaction in 2021, with Alaska Airlines (850) rounding out the top three.
The North America Airline Satisfaction Study measures passenger satisfaction based on performance across eight different factors, including aircraft; baggage; boarding; check-in; cost and fees; flight crew; in-flight services and reservation. The study of more than 2,300 passengers was fielded from August 2020 through March 2021.
“The airline industry adapted to the most unusual year by simplifying ticketing processes, waiving change fees and baggage fees which were key to persuading people to fly during the pandemic,” J.D. Power travel intelligence lead Michael Taylor said in a statement. “Airline personnel rose to meet the challenges of a drastically altered travel environment. Maintaining that level of flexibility and recognition of individual passenger needs will be a strategic advantage for airlines that want to set themselves apart in passenger satisfaction as travel volumes start to recover.”
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