Survey Says: People Still Hate The Airlines… Especially United

The folks at the American Customer Satisfaction Index have released their annual report on the airline industry, once again confirming that it’s awfully hard to please consumers when you treat them like cattle and charge a premium for the privilege.

The airline industry average score of only 69 for 2014 is a slight improvement over last year’s average, but still only puts it ahead of industries that are even more despised, like pay-TV and Internet service providers.

Of the large legacy carriers to be listed in the survey, only Delta beat the industry average with a score of 71, while American and merger partner U.S. Airways tied with 66 (so at least they can’t complain next year that one of them is bringing the other down).

And poor ol’ United, which got leap-frogged in the size rankings by American this year, remains in the rear with a dreadful score of 60, putting it below Comcast’s most recent score of 63 and tying with Time Warner Cable for having the second-lowest ACSI score.

What specifically do people hate about the airline industry?

ACSI says two of the largest contributors to low scores were poor in-flight service and lack of seat comfort, categories that scored 67 and 63, respectively.

One bright spot is the improved booking and check-in processes at most airlines, where you no longer need to deal with a human being for most flights. These two categories each scored 82.

“Travelers are happy with airlines before they get on the plane. Even areas that might be considered stereotypical customer pain points, like late departures and arrivals or baggage handling, score high these days,” says David VanAmburg, ACSI Director. “The one area that continues to plague airlines is the in-flight experience, which can really sour satisfaction with the airline overall.”

Even on the above average side of the ACSI survey, things weren’t great. JetBlue repeated as the highest-scoring carrier but saw its score drop by 5%. Likewise, runner-up Southwest’s score declined by 4%.

Surveys like this seem to highlight that, barring some sort of major innovation that allows airlines to carry large numbers of passengers efficiently and inexpensively without having to cram them in like sardines in a tin, it may just be impossible for air travel to ever be more than marginally satisfactory for those of us who can’t afford to pony up for business- and first-class seats.

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