Which US Airline Scored Highest With Customers During the Pandemic?

Satisfaction with airlines was at an all-time high during the industry's worst year ever

Southwest airlines (C) and Delta sirlines (R) aircrafts are seen at the San Jose del Cabo International Airport (SJD) in Baja California state, Mexico, on April 29, 2021
Southwest and Delta aircrafts are seen at the San Jose del Cabo International Airport (SJD).
DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images

Turns out the best time to fly was during the height of the pandemic.

That’s the conclusion reached by consumer insights company J.D. Power in its 2021 North America Airline Satisfaction Study. Satisfaction of passengers in the annual survey rose 27 points to 819 (on a 1,000-point scale) year over year, a new high. And this was during a time when passenger volume dropped 60% and the airlines lost over $40 billion in revenue.

“The airline industry adapted to a most unusual year by simplifying ticketing processes, waiving change fees and baggage fees which were key to persuading people to fly during the pandemic,” said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power. “Airline personnel rose to meet the challenges of a drastically altered travel environment. Maintaining that level of flexibility and recognition of individual passenger needs will be a strategic advantage for airlines that want to set themselves apart in passenger satisfaction as travel volumes start to recover.”

The biggest airline winner? Delta, which scored 860 points (out of 1,000) and topped the list for the first time since 1995; the airline also topped four of the eight different factors used in rankings. Southwest and Alaska Airlines were close behind in overall scores.

In response, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said it is “particularly meaningful that this recognition came during the most challenging year in our history.”

Other key findings from the survey: Passenger satisfaction with flight crews was way up, travel waivers were a big hit and all the airlines ranked well with fliers for their COVID-19 safety precautions.

The study, based on responses from 2,309 passengers who had flown on a major North American airline within a month of completing the survey (between August 2020 and March 2021), measured satisfaction with airline carriers in North America based on eight factors: aircraft; baggage; boarding; check-in; cost and fees; flight crew; in-flight services; and reservation.


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