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JD Power Looks at Customer Satisfaction in Air Travel During the Year that Wasn’t

Delta comes out on top as attentive flight crews and flexible fares raise customer contentment

Despite the North America airline industry losing more than $40 billion in revenue as passenger volume dropped 60 percent in 2020, airline passengers marked their level of satisfaction with high marks. According to the J.D. Power 2021 North America Airline Satisfaction Study released today, the elimination of many charges and fees, as well as the increased attentiveness of flight crews, and ticket forgiveness and flexibility helped the industry achieve new heights as passenger satisfaction climbed some 27 points to 819 (on a 1,000-point scale) year over year.

“The airline industry adapted to a most unusual year by simplifying ticketing processes, waiving change fees and baggage fees which were key to persuading people to fly during the pandemic,” said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power. “Airline personnel rose to meet the challenges of a drastically altered travel environment. Maintaining that level of flexibility and recognition of individual passenger needs will be a strategic advantage for airlines that want to set themselves apart in passenger satisfaction as travel volumes start to recover.”

Highlights of the 2021 North America Airline Satisfaction Study include:

• Flight crews stepped up during pandemic: Overall passenger satisfaction with flight crews increased 26 points as flight attendants and pilots were tasked with explaining and enforcing many new health and safety measures during the pandemic. Delta, this year’s highest-ranked airline, scored particularly well on the flight crew factor, outperforming its closest competitor by 11 points. All told, Delta was the top performer in four of the eight factors evaluated in the study.

• Removal of change fees scores points with passengers: Most major airlines introduced travel waivers during the pandemic that allowed passengers to change or cancel tickets without typical penalties. Passengers responded favorably, driving a 47-point increase in customer satisfaction with cost and fees.

• Empty middle seats signaled airline concern for passengers: All North America airlines earned generally high marks from passengers when they were asked to rate their airline’s response to COVID-19. Additional safety measures, such as keeping middle seats empty, enforcement of mask requirements and allowing worried travelers to alter their itineraries all helped to reinforce this positive sentiment.

Adding Up the Scores for Airlines

Delta Air Lines ranks highest in customer satisfaction this year, with a score of 860. This is the first time Delta Air Lines has ranked highest since 1995. Southwest Airlines (856) ranks second and Alaska Airlines (850) ranks third.

The North America Airline Satisfaction Study measures passenger satisfaction with airline carriers in North America based on performance in eight factors (in alphabetical order): aircraft; baggage; boarding; check-in; cost and fees; flight crew; in-flight services; and reservation. The study measures passenger satisfaction

among both business and leisure travelers and is based on responses from 2,309 passengers.

Passengers polled had flown on a major North America airline within the past month of completing a survey. The study was fielded from August 2020 through March 2021.