Although airline passengers are paying higher fares and being charged to haul bags, they're apparently happier with the airline experience than they were a couple of years ago, according to a new consumer satisfaction survey. The Michigan-based American Consumer Satisfaction Index reported this week that at 67 on a scale of 100, customer satisfaction with the airline industry is as high as it's been for decades. In 2012 alone, the industry gained 3.1 percent in approval points, this despite higher fares, more crowded flights and fewer scheduling options. What's going on here? "I think in part it's because customers are becoming cleverer when they fly at avoiding the various fees. We're finding that while passengers aren't terribly satisfied with checked baggage fees, fewer of them are checking baggage," says ASCI director David VanAmburg.
And perhaps with no bags to get lost or charged, passengers breeze through the airport more seamlessly. If they also pack lighter as a result, airlines benefit through reduced fuel consumption. Ironically, the deep discounters such as Spirit Airlines have the best satisfaction ratings because customers go into the deal knowing what to expect. Traditional mainstream carriers such as Delta, United and American are at the bottom of the satisfaction scale, according to ASCI. In the most recent survey, JetBlue displaced Southwest as the satisfaction leader, perhaps, says VanAmburg, because Southwest is merging with AirTran, which may be causing some service ripples. Although the airlines are doing better than a year ago, as an industry, they lag other segments and remain in the bottom three among 47 industries ASCI surveys, including hotels, fast food and full-service restaurants. For more on ASCI's airline survey, check out AVweb's podcast with David VanAmburg.