Internet Travel Monitor - Marketing, Research & Tech

March 8, 2017

Survey: Airlines Get Better Grades as Service Improves

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As airlines improved their performance, more people were flying last year than any time since the airline industry began regularly surveying air travelers in 1971.

And more passengers were satisfied with their travel experience last year than the year before, according to the Ipsos Public Affairs survey that was to be released Tuesday. The survey was conducted in January for Airlines for America, the trade group that represents most of the largest carriers.

The portion of the population that flew last year reached 49%, up from 21% in 1971 when the industry first began surveying with Gallup.

Among last year’s passengers, 85% said they were “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their overall experience, according to the survey. That compared to 79% of fliers being satisfied with the experience in 2015.

The survey didn’t ask previously about passenger satisfaction. But a 1978 story in U.S. News and World Report magazine said a survey for the previous year found airline travel got a “good” rating from 52% of passengers.

The latest survey covered a period when airline passengers experienced the fewest canceled flights, the fewest bumps off planes that were oversold and the least mishandled bags in decades of federal record-keeping about those inconveniences, according to a Transportation Department report released earlier this month.

John Heimlich, the airline group’s chief economist, said better food options, investments in technology at the airport and aboard the aircraft, and expedited security screening each contributed to the positive views. The group's 10 airlines were on pace to spend $17.6 billion last year on aircraft, entertainment, ground equipment, baggage handling and terminals.

“We’ve had two consecutive years of fairly significant airfare declines, and a couple of consecutive years of record capital expenditures putting money back into the product,” Heimlich said.

Fares have also dropped in the last two years. Fares including ancillary fees, but without taxes, averaged $399.11 in 2014, according to the Transportation Department. The figure dropped to $386.11 in 2015 and $371.79 during the first half of last year.

The number of airline travelers has grown each year since 2009, reaching 798 million in 2015. The total is expected to break 800 million for the first time when the total for 2016 is announced.

“Lower fares usually translate to more volume,” Heimlich said.

Enrollment in trusted-traveler programs such as Precheck with the Transportation Security Administration or Global Entry with Customs and Border Protection, which provide expedited screening at airport checkpoints, grew from 6 million in 2015 to nearly 10 million last year. Participants in those programs were even more satisfied with their travel experience, including 92% with Global Entry and 88% with Precheck, according to the survey.

“We have more and greater enrollment in trusted traveler programs,” Heimlich said.

Among airline travelers, the average number of trips was 4.5 last year, but with a wide variation, according to the survey. Nearly half the travelers (47%) took one or two trips, but 11% took nine or more trips last year.

Most of the trips (51%) were for leisure, but nearly a third (31%) were for business, according to the survey. The rest (18%) were for personal reasons other than leisure such as for college, a family event or a job interview.

Travelers ranked the same priorities in choosing among airlines, whether traveling for personal or business reasons. The most important factors were affordability when counting airfare, taxes and ancillary fees; the schedule and the carrier’s reliability. Other factors were seat comfort, customer service, inflight amenities, the airline’s loyalty program and environmental issues.

Ipsos surveyed 5,047 adults for the airline group with online interviews Jan. 6 to 13.


Copyright 2017 USA TODAY. All rights reserved. From http://www.usatoday.com. By Bart Jansen, USA TODAY.
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