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Innovation: Are We Happy Yet?

A couple of surveys of airline customer satisfaction have been released in recent weeks, and the results should surprise nobody: Passengers are ticked. Reason number one is that the nation’s Big Six carriers are sliding toward a 60 percent on-time average. Reason number two is that the Big Six are “mishandling” (airline code for “losing”) record numbers of checked baggage.

A couple of surveys of airline customer satisfaction have been released in recent weeks, and the results should surprise nobody:

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Passengers are ticked.

Reason number one is that the nation’s Big Six carriers are sliding toward a 60 percent on-time average.

Reason number two is that the Big Six are “mishandling” (airline code for “losing”) record numbers of checked baggage.

If you’ve gotten the feeling lately that the airline industry is going backward when it comes to customer satisfaction, you have proof in the quarterly results of the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) released by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

Ironically, while the overall ACSI score hit 75.2 (on a 100-point scale) — the highest quarterly national average in the ACSI’s 14-year history — the ACSI score for airlines fell 3 percent to 63, its lowest level in seven years.

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Said the report: “The same problems that have pulled airline passenger satisfaction down the past few years — disenchanted employees, increasing fuel costs, bankruptcy, and now also record levels of lost, delayed and damaged luggage — cause it to drop again.”

Claes Fornell, a business professor and director of the Ross School’s National Quality Research Center, which compiles and analyzes the ACSI data, was quoted in an Associated Press story as saying that “The first step in improvement here is to recognize that something is wrong.”

Do you think the Big Six carriers recognize the extent of airline customer dissatisfaction? They probably do, but the more challenging questions is what can they — and what will they — do about it?

According to a Detroit News story by Joel J. Smith, it was Northwest Airlines that finished dead last in customer satisfaction in a J.D. Power and Associates survey.

On a positive note, Northwest had the lowest rate of mishandled baggage among the nation’s eight largest carriers.

On the other hand, JoeSentMe.com travel writer, blogger, and former executive editor of now-defunct Frequent Flyer magazine Joe Brancatelli has been all over Northwest of late for cancelling (and “pre-cancelling”) so many flights.

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Here’s an interesting tidbit from Joe about “pre-cancelled” flights: “For reasons known only to bureaucrats, any flight cancelled more than seven days before departure is not counted against an airline’s cancellation rate in the DOT’s monthly Air Travel Consumer Report. So Northwest is pre-canceling hundreds (perhaps thousands) of flights in July, making sure to do it eight days or more before departure.”

You’ve got to ask yourself, is the concept of the happy traveler forever lost or will there be an airline that can ultimately get it right?

Airline Futurist • Miami • www.amadeus.com

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