Slight rise in airlines' customer satisfaction

Apr 27, 2016, 12:54 PM EDT
A Spirit airlines plane.
(Source: Clément Alloing/flickr)

A customer satisfaction survey released on Tuesday found that JetBlue was the top rated U.S. airline, and Spirit came in dead last. Overall satisfaction is up slightly -- 4.3% above last year -- as low fuel prices have finally trickled down to lower ticket prices (for the most part). According to the Department of Transportation, inflation-adjusted fares are at their lowest level in five years.

However, the airline industry is still among the least-favorite ones in the U.S., coming at seventh-lowest out of the 43 industries measured by the American Customer Satisfaction Index. The causes, as many of us can attest, are its uncomfortable seats, baggage fees, and end of free meals.

Some airlines are improving their services, by scrapping certain fees or restoring old perks. According to CNN Money,  American Airlines and United Airlines recently brought back free snacks, which always sits well with customers. United experienced a 13% increase in its score while American scored 9% higher. 

And while finishing last yet again, even no-frills budget airline Spirit's customer satisfaction rating was 15% higher than in 2015. This demonstrates that customers are begrudgingly accepting its pricing model of a low base fare plus numerous optional fees. Perhaps in a few more years it will be on par with Europe, where low-fare carriers have become the norm and no longer despised.

That said, customer satisfaction isn’t the only metric that airlines should be aiming to improve. A recent survey of the greenhouse gas emissions from the world’s 20 largest airlines that report such statistics found that the top three emitters were American Airlines, Delta, and United. In line with the International Civil Aviation Organization’s goal of reducing aviation’s net CO2 emissions to 50% of 2005 levels by 2050, many airlines are introducing modern, more efficient planes to their fleet. However, their impact has been offset by the increased number of flights, which is set to double by 2030. The survey’s data shows that emissions for most airlines are either growing or stagnant, not declining. Currently, airlines account for 2% of human-introduced CO2 emissions, but that will rise to 3% by 2050 if no action is taken.

The growing prevalence of in-flight wifi on many airlines is a welcome development, and lower fares are always good news. But in services and CO2 emissions, the airlines still have much room for improvement.