Consumer Satisfaction with Airlines in a Tail Spin – Delta, United, and US Airways “Most Hated”

By Ben Rossi on 8 July 2011
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The numbers are in, and they aren’t pretty. The latest data from the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) paint a bleak picture for the airline industry, which fell to dead last in consumer satisfaction among 47 ACSI industries. Delta Airlines, United Airlines, and US Airways ranked in the bottom three airlines, with Delta bringing up the rear.

Across the board, passengers complained about poor service and greater costs due to high fuel prices and fees for baggage and other services, making airlines some of the most-hated corporations in the U.S. Baggage fees, in particular, rankled consumers: those who had to pay the fees reported an average ACSI score of 58, compared to 68 for those who did not pay fees. A particular concern for airlines: business passengers, their most profitable market segment, are least satisfied with an ACSI score of 61.

As usual, Southwest Airlines was head and shoulders above other airlines in terms of customer satisfaction. Passengers praised the airline’s efficient cabin service and zero baggage fees policy. Whether Southwest can remain dominant following its merger with Air Tran in May, however, remains an open question.

Delta Airlines fared the worst this year, with a precipitous 10% drop from 2010 putting it in last place behind US Airways and United Airlines. Since acquiring Northwest Airlines in 2008, Delta’s score has plunged steadily. Passengers surveyed cited additional fees for luggage, beverages, and food as the reason for their dissatisfaction.

The other bottom-ranked airlines, United Airlines and US Airways, are also struggling with organizational issues in the wake of recent mergers. United Airlines’ score actually improved slightly from last year, but its 2010 merger with Continental Airlines seems to have hit the latter hard: though ranked second in customer satisfaction among major airlines, Continental’s score plunged 10% from last year. US Airways is still struggling after its score fell to an industry low following a merger with American West in 2005.

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