Flying Colors: JetBlue and Continental
Financial and security crises have eroded the air travel experience in recent years, so those airlines that concentrate on efficient, consistent processes and friendly, helpful personnel have the highest passenger satisfaction. As revealed in the J.D. Power and Associates "2006 North America Airline Satisfaction Study," released today, Continental Airlines is tops among traditional network carriers, earning 697 points on a 1,000-point scale; Delta Airlines is just a hair behind with 695. Continental is further distinguished as the only carrier whose satisfaction rating among business travelers is higher than its consumer clientele.
JetBlue Airways rules the roost among low-cost carriers with 820 points, the highest overall score in the study. It is also the only carrier in the low cost segment to beat the segment average of 739 points. "JetBlue is true to its business model, in which it promises its passengers a comfortable seat with a television monitor, peanuts, and service with a smile," says Linda Hirneise, executive director of the travel practice at J.D. Power and Associates. "They've never offered services such as in-flight meals, but they make up for it with amenities passengers truly value, and with their service."
The study is based on the responses of 9,334 passengers who flew on a major North American airline between January and May of 2006. It rates carriers on seven factors: costs and fees, flight crew, inflight services, check-in, boarding/deplaning/baggage, aircraft, and flight reservations. According Hirneise, the differentiating factors for passengers are process factors like boarding, check-in, and baggage handling, and people factors like the hiring criteria and training. "Network carriers must exceed customer expectations when it comes to people and process as the carriers reach price parity," Hirneise says. "All of the airlines are struggling operationally, but that doesn't mean that passengers have to suffer too."
Hirneise notes that the highest rated airlines have two things in common. "They have processes in place to ensure a consistent, positive travel experience, and they have the right people working for them, who make the flying experience a pleasurable one for their passengers."
Air carriers seeking to improve their performance can do so in the short term by following the example set by Continental and JetBlue. "They can have an immediate impact by shoring up the people factor and the consistency of their processes," Hirneise says. "There's not a lot of cost to this, and it will make the most difference to the passengers."
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