It may have been a turbulent past year for the travel industry, but those who took flight seem to be satisfied with their service, new data suggests.
Delta topped the list of J.D. Power’s 2021 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, an annual study that surveyed 2,309 passengers between August 2020 to March 2021 around the height of the coronavirus pandemic, polling consumers about their experience.
Travelers were polled on categories including check-in, aircraft, baggage, the boarding process and other experiences such as reservations and flight crew on a 1,000 point scale. And out of the country’s biggest airlines, Delta scored 860 out of 1,000 points, the highest rating received on the list since 1995.
While the airline industry lost more than $40 billion in revenue as passenger volume dropped 60% in 2020, passengers said they were actually more satisfied with service, the J.D. Power study says, noting that consumers were especially pleased with the elimination of fees associated with ticket changes and flexibility among flight crews.
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Indeed, the overall satisfaction with flight crews went up by 26 points with Delta, in particular, outshining its biggest industry competitors by 11 points. What’s more, waiving fees to change travel during the pandemic was also much appreciated by flyers with a 47 point increase, the study said.
"The airline industry adapted to a most unusual year by simplifying ticketing processes, waiving change fees and baggage fees which were key to persuading people to fly during the pandemic," Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power said in a statement, adding: "Airline personnel rose to meet the challenges of a drastically altered travel environment. Maintaining that level of flexibility and recognition of individual passenger needs will be a strategic advantage for airlines that want to set themselves apart in passenger satisfaction as travel volumes start to recover."
Safety protocols were also ranked highly by consumers. Measures such as keeping middle seats open to promote social distancing and carrying out mask-wearing requirements were applauded.
Here are the top five ranked airlines from J.D. Power’s list:
Delta ranked in at No. 1, scoring 860 points out of 1,000 in customer satisfaction. Since the pandemic hit, the airline was an industry leader to block middle seats for social distancing, a policy the company said will end in May as more Americans become fully vaccinated against the coronavirus more than a year after the pandemic became widespread.
Southwest Airlines came in at No. 2 with an 856 out of 1,000 score. The carrier also joined Delta in blocking middle seats then began rebooking in October of 2020.
Ranked at No. 3, Alaska Airlines scored 850 out of 1,000. The airline in August added touch-free travel with features on its mobile app allowing passengers to pre-order food and drinks, print bag tags without touching kiosks and allow airline agents to scan boarding passes from 6 feet away.
Jet Blue made the list at No. 4 with 849 out of 1,000 points. It also pledged to block off middle seats early on during the pandemic, and extended the policy into 2021. And United Airlines placed at No. 5 on the list with 810 out of 1,000 points.