The new American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) study of airline quality showed JetBlue and Southwest ranked highest among American airlines. Spirit Airlines, often called the most hated carrier, ranked last. With 100 as a perfect score, JetBlue and Southwest received a rating of 80. JetBlue lost one point, while Southwest gained three, compared to the 2015 ratings. The only good news for Spirit, which received a rating of 62, is that it had a 8 point jump from 2015’s score of 54.
While JetBlue and Southwest were the top scorers, United and American saw dramatic improvement in their rankings. United leaped 13% to a score of 68, its biggest year to year uptick, while American’s score rose 9% to 72 points.
On average, fliers gave U.S. carriers 72 out of 100 points, a peak matched only one other time in 1994. “Lower fuel costs mean both cheaper fares and more amenities as airlines are investing some of their record profits back into the business,’’ ACSI Managing Director David VanAmburg said in an email. “This creates both an incrementally better flying experience and a better value for the money.’’ The federal Bureau of Transportation Statisticssays the average price paid by airlines for a gallon of jet fuel fell from $2.31 in February, 2015 to $1.21 a gallon in February of this year – the lowest monthly cost since August, 2004.
Besides lowering their prices, airlines have used some of their new-found profits to buy new planes, spiff up terminals, and improve in-flight entertainment. United and American have even restored free snacks in their coach cabins.
Still, to some passengers, value may matter even more than comfort. Ultra low-cost carriers Frontier and Spirit had much lower scores than their larger, more perk-filled peers, yet saw marked improvement in how they were perceived by passengers. Frontier’s score jumped to 66, a 14% increase, while Spirit experienced a 15% bump up to 62 points.
“Ultra-low-cost carriers benefit the most from the industry-wide drop in fare prices,” VanAmburg says. “Since air travelers who choose these airlines typically do so solely on the basis of their low prices, discounting fares has a larger impact on passenger satisfaction with these low cost carriers. Yet because they offer little besides a low price, their ceiling for further improvement is probably rather low.”