In New Airline Survey, Alaska Air Ranks First While United Is Last

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Widely regarded research firm J.D. Power has released its 2018 North America Airline Satisfaction Study. Overall customer satisfaction grew again. Among the traditional carriers rated, Alaska Air Group Inc. (NYSE: ALK) finished first and Continental Holdings Inc.’s (NYSE: UAL) flagship airline finished last.

The survey showed that, on a measure that puts 0 as the potential lowest score and 100 the highest, North American airlines overall scored a 672, up eight points from last year. J.D. Power said this continues a seven-year trend of improvement. For the 2018 survey, the increase was influenced mostly by satisfaction with aircraft, which rose 15 points, followed by a better experience in boarding and deplaning, which rose 10 points

J.D. Power separates airlines into two groups: traditional carriers and low-cost ones. It may be hard for passengers to distinguish between the two since traditional carriers offer steep discounts and low-budget carriers offer seat and services upgrades.

Among the traditional carriers, Alaska Air had a rating of 775, against an average for all traditional carriers of 741. The only other airline that rated above the average was Delta Air Lines Inc. (NYSE: DAL) at 767. Below it, Air Canada posted a 734, American Airlines Group Inc. (NASDAQ: AAL) a 729 and, well down the scale, United Airlines was pegged at 708.

United has had a string of highly publicized examples of poor customer care, the most widely reported of which was an old man dragged off an airliner. The incident was taped and seen by millions of people. The media have reported negative incidents frequently since then. It is impossible to say how much these have changed general customer perceptions.

Among the low-cost carriers, Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE: LUV) ranked first with a score of 818, against an average for the segment of 799. For some reason, consumers rate low-cost carriers above traditional ones. The only other carrier to rate above average was JetBlue Airways Corp. (NASDAQ: JBLU) at 812. Ultra-low budget carrier WestJet rated 747, followed by Allegiant at 725 and Frontier at 683. Frontier is known for often adding fees for services beyond simple carrier service.

Methodology: The study measures passenger satisfaction among both business and leisure travelers and is based on responses from 11,508 passengers who flew on a major North American airline between March 2017 and March 2018. The study was fielded between April 2017 and March 2018.

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