U.S. Airlines Rank Lowest in Satisfaction Among Travel Sectors
Mel Evans/APUnited Continental Holdings finished last among U.S. airlines for customer satisfaction.
By Karen Jacobs

U.S. airlines lag hotels and online travel agencies in customer satisfaction as travelers face increasingly cramped airplanes and poor in-flight service, a poll published Tuesday showed.

The annual American Customer Satisfaction Index found that airlines scored 69 on a 100-point scale, compared with 75 for hotels and 77 for Internet travel agencies. Though that grade was unchanged for air carriers from the year before, only subscription TV service, social media and Internet service ranked lower among other industries tracked.

The ACSI Travel Index is based on random interviews with more than 7,400 U.S. customers of airlines, hotels and Internet travel websites from October 2013 to March 2014. The poll is the latest of several studies in recent weeks suggesting airlines have room to improve various aspects of customer service.

An annual report from researchers at Wichita State and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical universities found that while carriers overall had fewer passenger complaints, on-time performance and mishandled baggage rates worsened in 2013 from 2012 .

Another study from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund found that Spirit Airlines (SAVE), American Airlines Group (AAL) and United Continental (UAL) ranked worst in terms of passenger complaints.

The ACSI study found that while airlines got high marks for the ease of check-in and reservation procedures, the onboard experience could be improved. Customers rated carriers low on the quality of in-flight service such as beverages, bathrooms and seat comfort.

"The biggest challenge [for airlines] is the flight itself," David VanAmburg, managing director of ACSI, said in an interview. He said passengers give low marks on seat comfort because flights have become crowded and cramped as carriers look to fill every seat. He said he doesn't expect this trend to reverse since fuller airplanes have helped airlines improve their financial performance.

"It's been a clear trend in the industry in recent years to create cost efficiencies by putting more people on the plane," VanAmburg said.

Airlines with the highest satisfaction scores were JetBlue Airways (JBLU), Southwest Airlines (LUV) and Delta Air Lines (DAL), the survey found. United Continental had the worst score.

Hotels fared better than airlines in the index but lost stature as room rates went up. The overall hotel industry ranking of 75 was down from 77 in 2013.

Customers don't feel hotel amenities have improved as prices have risen, VanAmburg said. Budget and middle-market hotels such as Choice Hotels International's (CHH) Econo Lodge fared worse in guest satisfaction than luxury hotels. Marriott International's (MAR) Ritz-Carlton scored highest among hotel brands in the index.

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How about not having dogs in cabin sitting in people's laps? There were four on the last flight I was on. The flight crew never bothered to check to see if anyone had a problem with it. Also per FAA rules they are supposed to be in crates under the seat, but who is willing to say anythign when the flight crew is petting the dogsy saying "Oh, how cute!." They have banned peanuts because somebody might be allergic, but there are lots of people allergic to dogs. Why do they airlines do it?, because they sell tickets for dogs, and dogs don't need a seat. it's all about profits.

April 23 2014 at 7:33 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

United is terrible. Every time I have flown on United the planes never took off near or close to time. Mechanical issues or some other excuse ,delayed (hours) or cancelled. Every time I see a United flight listed I make a conscious effort not to book them. Will choose Southwest or US Airways even if ticket cost more.

April 23 2014 at 6:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim Dawson

I have nothing but good to say about American airlines, the last time I traveled to Europe we were late pulling away from the gate due to an ill passenger so I missed my connecting flight in Chicago, they were able to make new travel arraingments with a layover in London all my meals were comped in Chicago, when I arrived in London, my meals and my hotel ( The Raddison King George hotel ) were all comped. Avery good experience with an outstanding airline.

April 23 2014 at 3:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Just flew round-trip on Alaska Airlines. Not impressed. But then I don't know of an airline that really does impress, nowadays. Airlines toss peanuts and pretzels at passengers like they were caged monkeys and pack them in so tight it's nearly impossible to get out of your seat unless you are on the aisle. I have found the personnel on most airlines -- Delta being an occasional exception -- to be indifferent at best.

April 23 2014 at 2:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i didnt like american airlines. those kinda airlines suck for long flights. id rather ride on etihad or some other nice airline.

April 23 2014 at 12:03 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

CONTINENTAL used to be the #1 airline then UNITED took over and it went to hell fast. I try to avoid flying on UA when I can.

April 22 2014 at 11:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

People don't care about safety, it's the almighty buc that counts. The day after value jet plunged one into the Everglades their flights were still full. Southwest has been cutting corners for years and it shows in the pockets they've lined in D.C.. When it comes to safety, everyone has the "it's ok until somebody gets hurt" philosophy! If your offered a $79 round trip fare or pay $160 round trip on the safest airline in the world ? Which would you choose? I 'll say that for this article, you ll respond and say, the safest,but, for your next vacation, you'll be looking at the cheapest numbers only! That's a fact!

April 22 2014 at 11:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bud1058's comment

My favorite is Southwest. Everyone is so friendly and efficioent.

April 23 2014 at 3:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have always been impressed by Delta,from the customer service staff to the flight crews,i am a disabled traveller and they have always been accomodating,very polite

April 22 2014 at 11:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

United Airlines seems to suffer from the same basics every year ... all my frequent-flier friends put United on the bottom of their lists. My last flight on United resulted in my checked rolling luggage turn up missing at San Francisco and it was not found until 6 days later.
Many other times I have experienced problems with United. A number of their employees seem clueless ... it shows less than great management and training.
Spirit doesn't claim to be a great airline, just a low-price, low-frills airline ... which is honest, at least.
Overseas I have experienced much better flights, on-time, much more highly-trained staff, in nicer, cleaner planes, consistently. The Asian carriers I have flown on in China all showed they care about service, training, punctuality, and your comfort.
My last international Delta flights were the best in years. They seem to have risen above their problem areas nicely.
Flying was a great joy ... but now, with so many cheapo methods being employed to stuff the planes full, after the passengers are treated rudely by airport security personnel , it has become drudgery and a depressing experience for many people.
Alaska is usually good, in my experiences.
JetBlue has lots of return business as a value airline.

April 22 2014 at 10:56 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I am not surprised to see United at the bottom of the list; I stopped using United since back in '08, when they botched our family's Hawaiian vacation royally. Countless letters of complaint and phone calls, but no resolution. Bye Bye United.

April 22 2014 at 9:56 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply