It’s The Little Things That Often Make Travelers Happy With Airlines These Days

Image courtesy of Eric BEAUME

In an era of add-on fees, crunched-up knees, and general dissatisfaction with air travel, what does it take for an airline to stand out with customers? Apparently not much.

Our colleagues down the hall at Consumer Reports surveyed nearly 21,000 people about their most recent experience on a domestic, non-stop flight between the summers of 2014 and 2015, to come up with its latest airline ratings.

According to those results, the little things can go a long way with customers.

FEE TRANSPARENCY

Although passengers are generally pretty unhappy with the U.S. airline industry’s domestic coach class service, the carriers that earned the highest marks — JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, and Virgin America — were all rated highly for their transparency on fees.

In fact, Southwest was the only airline to get a top mark among coach customers for having no hidden fees, which Consumer Reports notes may be a key ingredient in the carrier’s success, one that helps make up for its apparent shortcomings in terms of seating, entertainment, and food.

On the other side of things, lower-rated Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant all get slammed for not being as up-front about the fees their passengers are likely to face.

BREATHING ROOM

Higher-rated airlines also set themselves apart from the pack by simply giving passengers a bit of room to breathe: two of the top-rated airlines in the survey, JetBlue and Virgin America, are known for having wider-than-the average seats and more inches of pitch — the distance between a point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front of it. And survey respondents agreed, with JetBlue and Virgin America earning the highest marks in the “legroom” category.

While a number of airlines are of the mindset that minimizing passengers’ legroom is a way to maximize profit, squeezing as many people into a plane as possible, some federal legislators have called for regulations that would further restrict just how tightly packed a plane can be. For example, Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY) recently called on the Federal Aviation Administration to establish seat-size standards in an effort to prevent airlines from continuing to cut seat size and leg room.