first class fliers looking none too happy - rich travelersAirlines make a lot of their money by selling pricey first-class seats to wealthy travelers. They might need to rethink this strategy, though, in light of a new survey that shows big-ticket travelers are turned off by the quality of the service they receive.

According to research by travel-focused market research firm PhoCusWright, a quarter of all fliers feel negatively about the air travel experience, while rich travelers are twice as likely to feel negatively about the service they receive.

This disconnect between the airlines and their luggage-toting cash cows is nothing new, according to airline industry consultant Bob Mann, but it's gotten worse in recent years."'First Class' is now a mere vestige in quality and emphasis of what it once was," Mann says. As a result, Mann says the uber-rich are decamping in large numbers to private jets, flight time on which can now be bought like a time-share arrangement.

In response to this loss, some airlines increasingly court business-class passengers, Mann says. Even high-end business travelers are unlikely to fly private jets, which makes them kind of a captive audience for airlines. By and large, Mann says, "U.S. carriers have under-invested in hardware and software -- equipment and employee motivation."

For anyone -- wealthy or not -- who's been snapped at by a harried gate agent or flight attendant, this will ring true. The difference with the richest passengers is they're paying more for the experience, so they expect more.

According to PhoCusWright, customers who pay more (sometimes much more) for a seat and still have to pay additional fees for things like checking bags come to resent the airline's nickel-and-diming, especially since most travelers remember when such things came included in the price of a ticket. "Even more concerning for airlines is that their most valuable customers -– business travelers and those with higher annual household incomes -– are even less happy than the average," said PhoCusWright's director of research Carroll Rheem, in a statement,

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