Holiday travel: The good, the bad, and the frustrating

There’s something nice about going home for the holidays. That warm feeling of knowing you’ll get to celebrate the occasion with friends and family. It’s something we look forward to.

But you know what we’re not looking forward to? The travel. 

It would be so much simpler if you could just snap your fingers and be home for the holidays. But that’s not the case. Not even close.

For many – especially those who need to fly home – traveling is one of the most stressful parts of the season. But some parts are better than others.

Here’s what consumers report are the highs and lows of airline travel, according to our 2018-2019 Travel Report.

1. Internet travel services make booking easy

There are usually two categories of travelers: those who book their arrangements well in advance, and those who wait until the last moment to finalize their plans. While these groups have differing opinions on the “when,” here’s how they feel about the “how.” 

ACSI data show customer satisfaction with travel websites for booking flights, hotels, and car rentals is up 1.3% to a score of 79 (out of 100) per the 2018-2019 report. Customers appreciate how easy it is to book and make payments on these websites, and they notice improvements in both navigation and site performance since last year.

As far as individual companies, TripAdvisor debuts in the lead with an ACSI score of 82. The company is a trusted source of user-generated reviews. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Expedia’s Travelocity takes the biggest hit, down 4% to 77, while Priceline falls 3% to the bottom of the category at 76.

On the whole, internet travel services offer a wider variety of travel options, much-desired comparison and filter tools, and improved customer support. Even more impressive, with an ACSI score of 85, travel website mobile apps have the highest satisfaction in any industry. 

Customers are also quite satisfied with the airlines’ mobile apps. In fact, with an ACSI score of 82, this is the best part of the industry, tied with checking in. 

This makes sense considering these two elements go hand in hand. Customers can conveniently use mobile apps to book travel, check the status of their upcoming flight, and check in prior to boarding.

Among the three aspects of air travel that show improvement, the boarding experience leads the way with an ACSI score of 79. In the same vein, travelers continue to find airline staff – both at the gate and in-flight – courteous and helpful. During the stressful travel season, every touchpoint matters

2. To check a bag or not check a bag

That question has plagued travelers since the beginning of time. (We admit, we’re being a bit dramatic, but you know what we mean.) Customers face myriad problems regardless of what they choose.

Canva - Silhouette of Person in Airport

In this year’s Travel Report, “overhead storage” is among four new metrics tracked. The response is less than ideal.

As evidenced by the ACSI score of 73, customers are largely unhappy with the availability and size of overhead storage.  

Unfortunately, things aren’t much better for travelers who check bags. 

Checking a bag isn’t cheap. It’s even worse – for your wallet and customer satisfaction as a whole – if you’re required to pay for both your checked bags and carry-ons. It also doesn’t help that airlines are constantly hiking prices. But considering airlines have pulled in a little over $2.8 billion in baggage fees through the first half of 2019, don’t expect this to change anytime soon. 

Leisure travelers are much more frustrated with luggage fees than business travelers, who are able to expense the charges. But the fact is unless you’re planning to travel light, you should expect your baggage to be another form of “baggage.

3. Fasten your seatbelts, it’s time to take off

The turbulence doesn’t stop once you get on the plane.

Besides being frustrated with the lack of available overhead space, customers are less than enthusiastic about the in-flight food and beverage options, with complimentary and premium (purchased) options each earning an ACSI score of 73. 

Customers are even less satisfied with in-flight entertainment (71). But the worst part of flying remains seat comfort – with an ACSI mark of 69 – as passengers note legroom has not improved.

Of course, when it comes to the in-flight amenities, it’s worth mentioning that scores vary based on the individual airline. Delta, for example, is number one among legacy airlines, rising 1% to an ACSI score of 75. Most Delta flights offer USB ports and Wi-Fi and have seatback screens. 

Delta isn’t the only airline upgrading the in-flight experience. As of Jan. 30, 2019, all passengers on United Airlines flights have free access to DirecTV. American Airlines, for its part, is making it simpler for passengers to listen to their Apple Music by allowing access to their music on all domestic flights using complimentary Wi-Fi. 

Better to be safe than sorry

If you’re flying home for the holidays, and if you’re lucky, you might get to experience the perfect flight. It will take off on time, there will be plenty of overhead space, you’ll have ample legroom, the food will be delicious, and your choice of in-flight entertainment will be exceptional.

This is the dream. But it’s highly unlikely. The most likely scenario is that you’ll experience some combination of good and bad.

The best thing you can hope for is that airlines heed consumer concerns, make adjustments to improve satisfaction, and maintain the elements of travel that consumers appreciate the most. 

Happy holidays, and happy travels!

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