The bad news for United Airlines: The Chicago-based carrier had the lowest customer satisfaction level of any legacy airline in a newly released annual survey.
The worse news: The survey was completed in March — before the viral video of a passenger being violently dragged off a United Express flight to make room for late-arriving employees sent the airline’s reputation into a nosedive.
Overall passenger satisfaction for airlines — including United — was up, but the industry remains in the bottom third of those tracked by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, or ACSI. The results, published Tuesday, are based on thousands of airline passenger interviews conducted over 12 months.
“Customer satisfaction has never appeared to be a goal for airlines,” Claes Fornell, chairman and founder of Michigan-based ACSI, said in a news release. “Compared to other industries, the financial return on passenger satisfaction is not much of an incentive. The exception is in the few airports where airlines actually compete with one another — or when they treat passengers spectacularly badly in public.”
The airline industry scored 75 out of 100 on the annual customer satisfaction survey, up 4.2 percent over last year. Discount carrier JetBlue Airways led the way with a score of 82, followed by Southwest and Alaska airlines.
JetBlue’s low-cost business model and cabin upgrades contributed to its high score, according to the survey, while Southwest policies such as no charges for flight changes and no hidden extra fees proved passenger-pleasing. Both airlines have a better track record of compensating passengers on overbooked flights, an issue that took center stage in the recent United incident.
American Airlines and Delta Air Lines were the top legacy carriers, tied for fourth with scores of 76. Discount carrier Spirit had the lowest customer satisfaction among all airlines with a 61.
It is unclear what impact the passenger-dragging incident, caught on video earlier this month at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, will have on United’s customer satisfaction level going forward, but there has already been significant fallout for the airline.
A Senate inquiry into the forcible removal by Chicago aviation security officers of Dr. David Dao from the Louisville, Ky.-bound flight is ongoing United announced last week that CEO Oscar Munoz would not be elevated to board chairman next year as planned and that its executive compensation program would be tied more closely to customer satisfaction.
Meanwhile, American is scrambling to recover from its own public relations nightmare. A male flight attendant was captured on video last week arguing with passengers after violently yanking a stroller from a mother holding her baby, according to reports. American issued an apology and placed the flight attendant on leave while conducting an internal investigation.
Chicago attorney Thomas Demetrio is representing both…