Airline Satisfaction Ratings More than Fees (ALK, DAL, UAL, AAMRQ, LCC, LUV, JBLU)

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While airline fees for checked baggage are decidedly unpopular among travelers, other factors can combine to overcome the negative impact of fees. Low-cost carriers appear to have the advantage here over traditional carriers according to the latest survey on customer satisfaction with airlines from J.D. Power and Associates. The study involved passengers who flew on a major North American airline between May 2011 and April 2012.

Traditional carriers like Alaska Air Group Inc. (NYSE: ALK), Delta Air Lines Co. (NYSE: DAL), United Continental Holdings Inc. (NYSE: UAL), and American Airlines parent AMR Corp. (OTC: AAMRQ) posted a slight decline in customer satisfaction, compared with a slight increase in satisfaction with low cost carriers like US Airways Group Inc. (NYSE: LCC), Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV), and JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ: JBLU).

Checked baggage fees cost airlines 85 ratings points on the satisfaction index, but according to J.D. Power’s analysis, “more than 70 pecent of passenger satisfaction is driven by other parts of the overall experience.” One of the company’s managers noted:

Despite the need for some carriers to charge unpopular fees, they can gain a competitive advantage by focusing their efforts on process efficiency and positive interactions with the staff and crew. Carriers that find innovative ways to provide passengers with greater control, save them time, reduce hassles and make the airline experience more enjoyable and comfortable will reap satisfaction benefits.

In a testament to widespread adoption of mobile devices, a large majority of customers had positive comments on the use of mobile boarding passes. Using a mobile device to check in more than doubled in 2011, and the ability to use a mobile device for check-in got a satisfaction rating of 845 out of a possible 1,000 points.

The highest rated traditional airlines in the customer satisfaction survey was Alaska Air, followed by Air Canada, and Delta. Among the low-cost carriers JetBlue ranked highest, followed by Southwest. This is the fifth consecutive year that Alaska has topped the traditional carriers rankings and the seventh consecutive year that JetBlue has topped the low-cost charts.

Paul Ausick