When it comes to customer satisfaction, low-cost airlines are faring better than their legacy rivals, according to the latest industry analysis.
JD Power & Associates, a market research firm, has released its 2012 North America Airline Satisfaction Study. Over 13,500 respondents rated airlines on seven criteria: cost and fees, in-flight services; boarding/deplaning/baggage; flight crew; aircraft; check-in; and reservations.
Low cost and legacy carriers were rated in separate categories. On a 1000-point scale, the low cost average was 754, with their legacy competitors lagging behind at 681.
JetBlue topped the low cost category, while Alaska Airlines took first place among legacy carriers. Most interestingly, Frontier Airlines scored higher than Alaska, despite being the worst performing budget carrier. US Airways came bottom of the legacy category, cementing its position as North America’s least favorite airline.
Overall, customer satisfaction was down from the previous year. This was largely a result of increasing airline fees; particularly for checked baggage. Survey respondents who had paid baggage fees in the past year were an average of 85 points less satisfied with their airline.
The disparity between satisfaction levels is related to customer expectations, according to Stuart Grief, vice-president of JD Power. Grief told the LA Times that while many legacy carriers have cut back on free services, travelers don’t expect those things from budget airlines in the first place. Customers who want less are easier to please.
Legacy carriers now face a tough choice: maintain extra fees and anger their customers, or lose an important source of revenue in tough economic times. Meanwhile, the likes of JetBlue and Southwest are profiting from their rivals’ distress.