Airline satisfaction falls as planes begin to refill

Photo (c) © Santiago Urquijo - Getty Images

American and Spirit rank the highest among ConsumerAffairs reviewers

Airports are crowded once again, and the increase in Americans taking to the sky coincides with a sharp drop in airline customer satisfaction, according to the latest survey by J.D. Power.

After a year in which planes sometimes flew with half their seats empty, aircraft cabins are packed once again. That middle seat that was unoccupied for the better part of 2020 and 2021 has someone in it now.

Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power, says customer satisfaction with North American airlines was very high over the last couple of years, but that was mainly because there were fewer people flying.

“Fewer passengers meant more space on airplanes, less waiting in line, and more attention from flight attendants,” Taylor said. “But that business model was simply not sustainable.”

While passengers were fairly content the airlines were losing money. Now planes are full once again and passengers are having to contend with long lines at security checkpoints and crowded aircraft.

Twenty points lower than a year ago

The J.D. Power survey found that overall passenger satisfaction across all three segments – first/business, premium economy, and economy/basic economy – registered just 798 on a 1,000-point scale, more than 20 points lower than a year ago. Passenger satisfaction with cost, flight crews, and aircraft all declined in this year’s study.

The top-rated airlines in J.D. Power’s study are JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines, and Delta Air Lines. In the economy/basic economy class, Southwest Airlines ranks highest.

ConsumerAffairs reviewers, however, have a different point of view. Based on thousands of verified reviews over the last 12 months using our 5-star rating system, here’s how our reviewers rate the major airlines:

‘Like losing an old friend’

The shocker is Southwest’s 1.5-star rating, which is driven largely by a significant number of 1-star reviews over the last 12 months. Tiffany, of Covina, Calif., describes herself as a longtime Southwest fan. However, she told us that she lost patience after the airline lost her luggage on two flights between December and April.

“Come on up to the standards you once set,” Tiffany wrote in a ConsumerAffairs review. “It is like losing an old friend.”

Another surprise in our ratings was Spirit Airlines' tie for first place. Stephanie, of Cresent City, Fla., posted a glowing review in January.

“Every time I fly with them they leave and land on time,” Stephanie wrote. “My last flight we were in seats all the way in the back with no window. They got our seats changed in an already full flight. They are always friendly. I’ve yet to have a problem with them. And their fares are always priced right.” 

Fares are rising because of skyrocketing jet fuel prices, and J.D. Power predicts that those increases could keep satisfaction levels low for a while. Even before the latest price spike, overall satisfaction with cost and fees declined in the premium economy segment by 66 points and by 21 points in the first/business class segment.

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