The crowds are back at US airports. The empty middle seats are occupied again and airlines in North America are raising ticket prices in response to soaring fuel costs and continued strong leisure travel demand—all at the expense of passenger satisfaction.
While higher prices could harm airline brands in the long term, for now, load volume is continuing to climb and passengers are willing to be assigned a middle seat in exchange for getting out of their houses, according to the J.D. Power 2022 North America Airline Satisfaction Study.
Customer satisfaction with North American airlines climbed to unprecedented highs for all of the wrong reasons during the past two years.Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power
“Fewer passengers meant more space on airplanes, less waiting in line and more attention from flight attendants. But that business model was simply not sustainable. Now, with volumes surging and some remnants of pandemic-era constraints still in place, passenger satisfaction is in decline—but that’s not really bad news,” said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power.
Last year’s North American Airline Satisfaction Study results indicated travelers were enjoying some of the unexpected benefits of pandemic-era flights: fewer passengers, emptier flights and ticket flexibility. Taylor suggested that the comparison between those height-of-Covid flights and travel today was behind this year’s drop in satisfaction.
If airlines can find ways to manage these growing volumes while making some small adjustments to help passengers feel more valued, they could return to ‘normal’Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power
1. Key Findings
Overall passenger satisfaction declines sharply across nearly all measures: Overall passenger satisfaction across all three study segments—first/business, premium economy and economy/basic economy—is 798 (on a 1,000-point scale), down more than 20 points from a year ago. Passenger satisfaction with cost, flight crews and aircraft all decline in this year’s study.
Premium passengers want their free drinks: Remnants of pandemic-era restrictions, such as the suspension of alcohol service in premium class, has driven sharp declines in passenger satisfaction with food and beverage offerings. This year, food and beverage satisfaction scores decline 38 points in the premium economy segment and decline 12 points in the first/business segment. By contrast, food and beverage satisfaction scores increase 7 points in the economy/basic economy segment.
Cost is a driving factor in satisfaction as average ticket cost rises 20%: With higher fuel prices and rising demand driving a 20% increase in average airfares through March 2022, cost continues to be a significant factor in passenger satisfaction. Overall satisfaction with cost & fees declines in the premium economy segment (-66 points), in the economy/basic economy segment (-33) and in the first/business segment (-21).
2. Study Rankings
- JetBlue Airways ranks highest in customer satisfaction in the first/business segment with a score of 878. Alaska Airlines (876) ranks second and Delta Air Lines (862) ranks third.
- JetBlue Airways also ranks highest in customer satisfaction in the premium economy segment with a score of 851. Delta Air Lines (837) ranks second and Alaska Airlines (825) ranks third.
- Southwest Airlines ranks highest in customer satisfaction in the economy/basic economy segment with a score of 849. JetBlue Airways (828) ranks second and Delta Air Lines (813) ranks third.
The North America Airline Satisfaction Study measured passenger satisfaction with airline carriers in North America based on performance in eight factors (in alphabetical order): aircraft; baggage; boarding; check-in; cost and fees; flight crew; in-flight services; and reservation.
The study measured passenger satisfaction in three segments—first/business, premium economy and economy/basic economy—and is based on responses from 7,004 passengers. Passengers needed to have flown on a major North America airline within the past month of completing a survey. The study was fielded from March 2021 through March 2022.
3. J.D. Power’s top North American airlines for economy passengers
- Southwest Airlines
- JetBlue Airways
- Delta Air Lines
- Allegiant Air
- Alaska Airlines
- Air Canada
- United Airlines
- Spirit Airlines
- American Airlines
- Frontier Airlines