Airlines have a problem: The in-flight experience.

Airlines are ascending.

Following a 2.7% drop in 2018, airlines rebounded in passenger satisfaction this year, climbing 1.4% to an ACSI score of 74 (out of 100), per our latest Travel Report.

Several airlines experienced improvements in customer satisfaction. Most notably, the newly minted leader, Alaska, up 1% to an ACSI score of 80. Delta, which finished first among legacy airlines, also climbed 1% to 75.

A majority of experience benchmarks remained unchanged and in good standing. Customers found solace in the check-in process (82), the ease of making reservations (81), the timeliness of arrival (80), and website satisfaction (80).

Customers were even more impressed with mobile apps, which debuted on the list at 82 for both quality and reliability.

Given these scores, you might think airlines would be much higher on the customer satisfaction scale. Unfortunately, the industry left much to be desired in arguably the most important part of travel: the flight itself.

The in-flight experience is a problem

This year, four new metrics were used to track some of the most problematic aspects of travel. The results were revealing.

The availability and size of overhead storage earned an ACSI score of 73, as did both the quality of complimentary and premium (purchased) food and beverage. The quality of in-flight entertainment received an even lower mark at 71.

Seat comfort – or lack thereof – remained the worst part of flying, with an ACSI score of 69.

It’s clear that passengers are yearning for a better flying experience. They don’t have much overhead space, their seats are cramped, and the food and entertainment could be better. Fortunately, some airlines are listening.

Airlines attempting to make flights more comfortable

Delta customers appreciate the in-flight amenities they receive on the bulk of mainline aircrafts. The airlines offer seatback screens, USB ports, and Wi-Fi. But Delta isn’t alone.

Although United, like American, is in the process of transitioning away from seatback screens, it’s making changes to accommodate its passengers in the short term.

In the past, only domestic business class passengers on United flights could access DirecTV for free. Economy passengers had to pay a small fee, but that’s no longer the case. As of January 30, 2019, all passengers will have free access to the service.

United is also looking to improve the in-flight experience through a new partnership with skincare brand Sunday Riley, as three cabin-specific amenity kits will be made available to United passengers.

“Sunday and her team really took the time to understand how travel and the aircraft environment affects our customers and formulated an in-flight remedy that complements their journey with United from beginning to end,” said Mark Krolick, United’s vice president of marketing, per the Airline Passenger Experience Association (APEX).

In an attempt to improve in-flight entertainment, American Airlines is making it easier for passengers to listen to their Apple Music. Those with subscriptions can now use complimentary Wi-Fi on all American Airlines domestic flights to access their music.

Passengers might be part of the problem

It’s true that flights have become less comfortable over the years. However, airlines aren’t the only ones to blame. Consumers are also at fault to an extent.

According to an MSN poll, 51% of Americans noted price of the ticket as their top priority when selecting which airline to fly. Only 6% of the 209,000 people polled listed comfort as their No. 1 priority.

“The reality is that people have proven to the U.S. airline industry time and time again that, at volume, they prefer the lower advertised price regardless of how many add-ons they have to pay for,” said Vinay Bhaskara, a senior business analyst with industry publication Airway.

If customers are going to purchase tickets based on the price, they’re essentially saying they’re willing to forego comfort for cost-cutting. That’s part of the problem.

Voice your concerns

If passengers are looking for improvements to airlines’ in-flight experience, they have to speak up. Some customers do that more frequently than others, and it’s paying off.

Nearly a third of business travelers have filed a complaint with an airline as opposed to only 11% of leisure passengers. Yet, business travelers who complain are still far more satisfied than the average leisure traveler with a complaint, posting an ACSI score of 78 compared to 73.

ACSI-travel-airline-complaints-2019
You might be surprised by these numbers, but it makes sense.

Business travelers travel more frequently. They have more experience and a better level of expectations. They know the lay of the land, and they have a greater sense of how things are supposed to operate (which is while they’ll likely speak up if things are off).

Leisure travelers, on the other hand, may fly once a year and not be as comfortable with the process. They have different expectations, and while they might get frustrated when things don’t go according to plan, they’re less likely to voice a concern.

If customers really want more, they have to give airlines a greater reason to change. Given the current consumer spending habits, however, this trend will likely continue.

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