Satisfied flyers? Not in these friendly skies

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What a great day for airlines. For the first time in six years, passenger satisfaction with airlines improved, according to the American Customer Satisfaction Index survey done in conjunction with the University of Michigan. It's no surprise that Southwest finished on top for the 16th straight year with a rating of 81. After all, they actually let their flight attendants rap the safety instructions.

Then there's United, at the bottom of the list, again, with a woeful 56.

I tried out United on Friday and got to experience one version of what people are complaining about. They actually might have reached a new kind of low on my flight.
On Flight 822 from Dulles Airport to Boston bad weather got in the way of departure. Hey, nothing an airline can do about that. In fact, kudos to the gate attendants who never lost their cool as frustrated travelers vented at them.

Then came the "good" news. The flight had been cleared to leave, the folks at the gates announced. The relieved passengers scurried to their ready positions and waited and waited and waited...

That's when the gate attendants threw the pilot under the bus. They told them that the pilot and crew had left and could not be located. They called everyone they could think of and no luck. About every 10 minutes or so they reminded the not-so-happy crowd that it wasn't their fault that the pilot had abandoned his ship. And so the anxious and angry talked amongst themselves as an hour passed after the good news announcement. Finally, the only person the plane would actually wait for showed up.

They gave him mock applause, jeered him and asked how he enjoyed his supper. Once on board, any apologies? No. Any songs ala Southwest? Not a chance. But a flurry of excuses about how he was told there would be no way the flight could possibly leave earlier than the time it was rescheduled for during the delay. And that proved to be the case, thanks to the disappearing pilot.

Northwest finished just above United in the survey. I don't know if they lose pilots, too, but it is an interesting new way to upset passengers that other airlines could try should they want to push United from the bottom.

The flight attendants should get a pat on the back, though. They apologized for the long wait. And, to the pilot's credit, the plane did arrive at the right airport, just at the wrong time. US Airways, which had previously performed quite poorly, showed significant improvement in the survey as did Delta and Continental.

United's media relations office said they would comment on the situation as soon as they can.

You can see the rankings here, and this is the list available:

1. Southwest -- 81 (up 2.5% over last year)
2. All other airlines -- 77 (up 2.7%)
3. Continental -- 68 (up 9.7%)
4. All airlines average -- 64 (up 3.2%)
5. Delta -- 64 (up 6.7%)
6. American -- 60 (down 3.2%)
7. US Airways -- 59 (up 9.3%)
8. Northwest -- 57 (static)
9. United -- 56 (static)

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