Passengers are more satisfied than ever with service on North American airlines even as they begrudgingly acknowledge that added fees aren't going away.
The airline industry scored 712 on a 1,000-point scale, up 17 points from 2013 and rising for the second consecutive year, according to the J.D. Power & Associates' 2014 North America Airline Satisfaction Study released today.
It's the highest ranking since the survey adopted a new method in 2006.
The ratings show that easier check-in and improved in- flight services like Wi-Fi access have smoothed objections to charges for checked bags, select seats, early check-in and other items. Satisfaction with "cost and fees," the category with the biggest impact on the total rating, rose to 642 from 618 a year ago.
"We certainly would not conclude that people are happy with these fees, but we are seeing it go from worst to less bad," Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power, said in an interview. "There is certainly less dissatisfaction." Airlines have found favor among investors as well, with the Bloomberg U.S. Airlines Index climbing 60 percent during the period of the study.
The J.D. Power survey asks passengers to rank airlines based on seven categories, including in-flight services and boarding, deplaning and baggage. Even with the improvement, airlines trail satisfaction with hotels, at 777; rental cars, 775; and mortgage lenders, 771.
Nice Improvements "A cynic might say they went from D- to C-, but we like to focus on the fact airlines are doing better than they've done in many years," Garlick said. "The airlines have made a lot of nice improvements in the product. The experience is better for people." Alaska Air Group Inc.'s Alaska Airlines ranked first among traditional carriers for the seventh consecutive year. It scored 737, up 20 points from a year earlier. Delta Air Lines Inc. was second at 693, followed by American Airlines Group Inc. with 684.
United Continental Holdings Inc. and US Airways Group Inc. were the lowest ranked, falling below the group average. US Airways merged with American in December, although it continues to fly under the US Airways name.
JetBlue Airways Corp. ranked highest among low-cost carriers, for the ninth consecutive year, with a score of 789. Southwest Airlines Co. ranked second in the category at 778. Frontier Airlines ranked lowest among low-cost carriers.
Alaska's frequent-flier award program ranked first among all North American carriers in a separate survey by J.D. Power. The carrier's Mileage Plan gained particularly high ratings for making it easy to redeem points and the program terms, the study found.