“Airline success in the post-COVID-19 era will hinge on a combination of building consumer confidence and operational flexibility with changing schedules and routes. Airlines have a tremendous reputation for safety. That will be even more critical as passengers look to airlines for detailed and specific information about what’s being done to keep them safe,” says Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power.

In the eyes of leisure travelers over the past year, Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways ranked first and second, respectively, in J.D. Power’s 16th annual Passenger Satisfaction Survey across both the long-haul and short-haul flights categories.

In the long-haul flights category, Southwest Airlines scored 826 out of a 1,000-point scale for customer satisfaction. JetBlue Airways came in at a close second with 823, followed by Delta Air Lines at 810.

For short-haul flights, Southwest was first with a score of 839. JetBlue scored 833 for a its second place ranking ahead of Alaska Airlines (828) in third.

J.D. power surveyed 10,100 fliers who were traveling for pleasure between April 2019 and March 2020. Survey participants were asked to rate performance across eight factors: aircraft; baggage; boarding; check-in; cost and fees; flight crew; in-flight services; and reservation. To qualify for participation in the survey, passengers had to have flown on a major North American airline within the past month by the time of their response.

Southwest and JetBlue have each long maintained positive customer reviews. And while the survey only covers the initial period of worldwide lockdowns and mandated social distancing measures in the face of the pandemic, J.D. Power’s findings highlight what airlines must do to maintain higher satisfaction amid significant new challenges during the age of Covid-19.

The message is perhaps plainly obvious, but it’s still worth noting: “Travelers want specific, clear information on what sanitization measures are taking place and what incidents are happening in the areas they are visiting.” 

“Airline success in the post-Covid-19 era will hinge on a combination of building consumer confidence and operational flexibility with changing schedules and routes,” said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power. “Airlines have a tremendous reputation for safety. That will be even more critical as passengers look to airlines for detailed and specific information about what’s being done to keep them safe.”

Among the airline satisfaction factors that J.D. Power outlines in its survey:

  • Value is a key differentiator for highest-performing airlines: In the midst of the pandemic, many airlines have waived change and cancellation fees.  These fees have a notable effect on customer perception of ticket value.  When it comes to customer perception of value for money, the highest-performing airline rates 6.33 (on a 7-point scale) vs. an industry average of 5.68.
  • Based on additional J.D. Power research conducted April 17-19, leisure travelers say they want airlines to highlight the specific cleaning/sanitization actions they are taking (38 percent). These travelers also want carriers to provide daily updates on the state of the pandemic specific to the location they will be visiting (37 percent).
  • Improving staff scores will play an important role in recovery: Passenger satisfaction scores related to courtesy/friendliness of crew and staff knowledge have been improving consistently during the past five years. As airline staff will play a key role in delivering passenger safety information and reassuring passengers of the steps the airline is taking to reduce exposure to COVID-19, airlines must strive to further improve these scores.
  • Getting basics right still matters: While the travel industry is fixated on COVID-19-related issues, it remains important to get the basic operational details right. Currently, the most common reasons passengers cite for selecting an airline are that it offers a direct flight (55 percent), the passenger had a good past experience with that airline (47 percent), and the passenger is a rewards program member (42 percent). The most commonly cited reason given for not selecting a preferred airline is price (40 percent).