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Are fliers satisfied?

Ticket to fly

Ticket to fly Credit: iStock

Delays. Cancellations. An onslaught of fees for everything from formerly free snacks and pillows to checked luggage. There are even fees for the first carry-on bag on at least one airline. So (as I learned to ask in psych class): How does that make you feel?

Apparently, you're feeling pretty good, because a new survey released this week by J.D. Power and Associates says fliers are happier than they were a year ago. That reverses a three-year trend of growing customer dissatisfaction with the airline industry.

Of the one Canadian and 11 U.S. airlines included in the 2010 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, Alaska Airlines ranked highest among traditional network carriers, and JetBlue came in first among low-cost carriers. 

Some other interesting findings: Customers assigned to a middle seat had a satisfaction rate that was an average of 16 to 20 points lower than those in a window or aisle seat. Free in-flight meals were ranked as the most important amenity among 65 percent of fliers on traditional carriers and 56 percent of those traveling on low-cost airlines. Nearly half of all passengers felt that prices for in-flight food and beverages, checked baggage and preferred seating were unreasonably high. About 3 in 5 fliers checked baggage, and overall satisfaction with boarding, deplaning and baggage averaged almost 60 points higher among fliers who were not charged to check their first bag.

Ironically, J.D. Power's Stuart Greif says that in some ways, things like higher fares and fewer flights have only fueled the love. That's because those changes have resulted in fewer passengers (think: shorter lines) and fewer flights (think: improved on-time performance). Add to that the fact that, in general, when humans don't get what they expect, they lower their expectations. And they learn to accept that which they cannot change. That, my friends, is exactly what happens in a crazy little psychological phenomenon known as Stockholm Syndrome.

So, are we really happy? Or have we just given in?

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