A4A projects U.S. airlines will carry an average of 2.63 million passengers per day during the Thanksgiving travel period. But J.D. Power finds that many of those travelers are less than pleased with airlines’ mobile apps.
Airlines for America expects another period of record holiday travel this Thanksgiving, as the trade organization is forecasting 31.6 million passengers to travel aboard U.S. carriers worldwide during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period – a 3.7 percent increase over last year. Release and presentation.
Meanwhile, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Dec. 1, is poised to be the busiest travel day ever for the U.S. airline industry, with 3.1 million passengers expected. In 2018, Thanksgiving Day was the 4th lightest day of the entire year and that’s also expected to be the case for this year.
The Thanksgiving report follows A4A’s August prediction that 17.5 million passengers – another record-breaker – would travel on U.S. carriers globally during the week-long Labor Day travel period (Aug. 28 through Sept. 3), amounting to a 4 percent gain over the same time frame in 2018.
In its latest report, A4A notes that U.S. airlines flew an unprecedented 2.8 Million passengers per day across the globe. And despite the grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX, A4A found that load factors averaged close to 88 percent.
Looking back at the last nine months of 2019, A4A finds that airline passenger demand has continued to remain strong, even as volatile trade tensions between the U.S. and China, along with the ongoing Hong Kong protests, have slowed growth.
“The popularity of air travel continues to soar this holiday season, as airlines and airports alike continue to invest billions of dollars into improving the quality of the experience and the efficiency of their operations,” said A4A VP and Chief Economist John Heimlich, in a statement.
Travel App Satisfaction Lags
While the demand and satisfaction for air travel appear fairly resolute, the other aspects of the experience appear to be lagging.
According to J.D. Power, airline, online travel agency (OTA), hotel, and rental car apps all trail highest-scoring credit card apps when it comes to overall customer satisfaction. In particular, overall satisfaction with travel apps is lowest for airline apps, which score 854 (on a 1,000-point scale). This compares with an average score of 872 for overall credit card customer satisfaction.
Still, some airlines are doing better than others.
JetBlue Airways scored highest in overall satisfaction among airline apps with a score of 872 out of 1,000. And Delta Air Lines’ FlyDelta app was closely behind with an 865 score, as Southwest (with 864) coming in third.
The study was based on 13,424 evaluations from users of airline, hotel, OTA and rental car websites and was fielded between August-September 2019.
"Travel apps and websites have become primary conduits through which consumers experience travel, such as searching for a hotel, booking a rental car and getting real-time flight status updates," said Michael Taylor, Travel Intelligence Lead at J.D. Power. "Given the crucial role they play, many travel apps and websites are still too complex for consumers to navigate and do not offer the most helpful information at the right time. One hotel website, for example, requires 29 separate actions across five different pages to make a reservation. That’s not good enough when customers are experiencing simple, elegant, seamless experiences in their banking and credit card apps and websites.
The race to improve its app has spurred a number of new features from United Airlines, which saw its app ranking fifth behind Alaska Airlines (both Alaska and United ranked below J.D. Power’s average airline app satisfaction score of 854).
For example, in commenting on what helped generate United’s positive Q3 earnings performance, the airline’s executives pointed to its mobile app as helping to drive ancillary revenues higher.
As United Chief Digital Officer Linda Jojo noted during the company’s Q3 analysts call, customers can purchase and change both tickets and in-flight products through any of United’s channels at any time before their trip. Since consumers are spending more of their interactive lives on mobile, having the ability to manage transactions within an app is increasingly regarded as essential.
“For example, a customer can prepay for her bag at the time of ticket purchase. But if she doesn't actually end up checking a bag, the bag fee is automatically refunded. We're the only airline to do this,” Jojo said at the time. “Or if a customer checks the app when she arrives at the airport, and sees that she might be too far down the upgrade list, she can purchase an upgrade right in the app.”