Crowds are back at the airports, those empty middle seats in the plane are occupied again, and airlines in North America are raising ticket prices in response to soaring fuel costs and continued strong leisure travel demand — and this all comes at the expense of passenger satisfaction. While dramatically 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,” said 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. If airlines can find ways to manage these growing volumes while making some small adjustments to help passengers feel more valued, they should be able to manage this return to ‘normal.’”
The North America Airline Satisfaction Study measures passenger satisfaction with airline carriers in North America based on performance in eight factors: aircraft, baggage, boarding, check-in, cost and fees, flight crew, in-flight services, and reservations. The study measures passenger satisfaction in three segments of travel class — 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.
There are some interesting findings from the 2022 study. For example, overall passenger satisfaction has declined sharply across nearly all aspect of flying, and in every class of travel. Overall passenger satisfaction across all three travel class categories is 798 (on a 1,000-point scale), which is down more than 20 points from a year ago. Passenger satisfaction with cost, flight crews and aircraft all declined in this year’s study.
Also, 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 saw food and beverage satisfaction scores decline 38 points in the premium economy segment, and 12 points in the first/business class segment. By contrast, satisfaction scores in the economy/basic economy segment increased 7 points.
And 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 costs and fees declined in the premium economy segment (-66 points), in economy/basic economy (-33) and in the first/business segment (-21 points).
The 2022 J.D. Power North America Airline Satisfaction Study also ranked airlines in the region. JetBlue Airways ranked highest in terms of customer satisfaction in the first/business class segment, with a score of 878. Alaska Airlines ranked second with 876 points, and Delta Air Lines third, with 862 points.
JetBlue Airways also ranked highest in customer satisfaction in the premium economy segment, with a score of 851. Delta Air Lines ranked second (837 points) and Alaska Airlines third (825 points).
Southwest Airlines ranked highest in customer satisfaction in the economy/basic economy segment, with a score of 849. JetBlue Airways ranked second with 828 points, and Delta Air Lines third, with 813 points.