Which Airlines Will Make You Happier? (You May be Surprised)

We all like to gripe about the airlines, but which type of carrier attracts more complaints – the mega-airlines or the lowly discounters? If you guessed the big boys, you are correct.

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Mega-Carriers vs. Discount Airlines

According to a report by Bloomberg, which cites Department of Transportation figures as well as a paper from MIT’s International Center for Air Transportation, passengers complain “dramatically more” about the bigger airlines even when the quality of the service is the same as the discounters. Example: While United and Southwest mishandled a similar volume of luggage (what laymen refer to as “lost bags”), the DOT received far more complaints about United.

Who Complains – And Why

Bloomberg suggests higher-paying business travelers are behind the numbers; unlike most vacation flyers, road warriors often travel the mega-carriers and pay a premium for their last-minute fares. In return, they expect great service. Plus, the business travelers may be a little more savvy about where to go to file a complaint.

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The Human Factor

However, there’s another factor at play here, one air travel analyst Rick Seaney took note of years ago: “Generally speaking, I suspect many passengers have lower expectations from self-described discount, no-frills carriers or as Southwest’s CEO once put it, the ‘right expectations.'”

Another factor cited is the human touch – happier employees who smile at passengers. As analyst Seaney has pointed out, that works both ways: Flight attendants have told FareCompare time and again that they love it when passengers smile at them. Could something so simple lead to better service and/or fewer complaints? Who knows, but – couldn’t hurt.

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Published: February 6, 2014