Airline Customer Satisfaction is Down, Why Are We Flying More?

Airline Customer Satisfaction Down, Airline Ticket Sales Up

The Department of Transportation reported a 2.2 percent increase in the number of domestic and international passengers between March 2010 to March 2011. However, the overall airline industry customer satisfaction score actually decreased by 1.5 percent from 2010, and we recently wrote The Top 5 Reasons We Hate to Fly. So why are we flying more?

Airline Passenger Volume Timetable

  • March 2008: More people were flying than ever in aviation history
  • 2009: Number of passengers plummeted, because of the recession
  • 2010: Number of passengers started to creep back up
  • March 2011: Continued growth in the number of passengers flying; up 4.3 percent since March 2009, although still 6.1 percent below March 2008.

Airlines Tied With Newspapers For Customer Satisfaction

The numbers might come as a surprise to many airline customers, who have been hit with more airline fees and fewer flights during the past several years.

An annual survey by the American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked airlines dead last – tied with newspapers – when it comes to customer satisfaction.

Customers are unhappy about service, fuel surcharges and those ubiquitous checked baggage fees (in fact, the airline with the best score in the survey, Southwest Airlines does not charge for checked bags.)

Airlines are not necessarily helping themselves out either. In June, a computer glitch delayed hundreds of United flights; a Delta airlines passenger complained that his lost bags were returned to him covered in toothpaste and urine; and a Southwest pilot was suspended for a homophobic rant that was broadcast to the FAA and other airline pilots.

Despite these missteps though, more people are buying plane tickets than in 2008, which begs the question: Why?

Why Are People Flying More?

1. Better economy. While recent reports have shown slower growth than expected for the U.S. economy, it has improved since 2009, which might be spurring more people to travel. In addition, Americans are a naturally optimistic bunch, so even if the economic outlook is not as sunny as we would hope, we are still willing to spend a little extra money on things like cheap flights because it makes us happier and we know we can earn it back.

2. Staycation fatigue. After two years of vacationing close to home (or at home for that matter), Americans might be ready to push their boundaries a little. Besides, after being disciplined about spending the past couple years; it is okay to splurge a little this year, right?

3. Fuel prices. Despite airline fuel surcharges, many travelers still see a savings in finding discount airline tickets to destinations that are farther away instead of paying for the gas to drive.

4. More business travel. A survey of small- to medium-sized business owners conducted by American Airlines found that 40% expected their corporate business travel to increase in the next 12 to 18 months. In addition, 64 percent felt that face-to-face meetings requiring air travel were crucial to the success of their business.

5. More overseas travel. The Department of Transportation survey found a 6.1% increase in the number of international travelers on U.S. carriers. Perhaps more people are taking to the skies because of a greater interest in traveling abroad.

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Published: July 6, 2011