Continental Airlines holds the top-ranked slot among traditional carriers for the second consecutive year.
The survey measures overall customer satisfaction based on performance in cost and fees; flight crew; in-flight services; aircraft; boarding/deplaning/baggage; check-in and reservations.
JetBlue took a hit in the boarding/deplaning category because of its recent troubles in which passengers were trapped onboard while planes sat on the runway, Linda Hirneise, executive director of the travel practice at J.D. Power and Associates, tells Marketing Daily.
Here's why Hirneise thinks JetBlue kept its ranking.
"JetBlue has not deviated from their motto from the get-go. They are competitive in price, they offer an on-board amenity [satellite TV] which has a profound impact on their customer. They are not a carrier who started out with many amenities that were part of the price and then taken away, like in traditional airlines. They have been true to their motto since day one."
What's more, "JetBlue has so much goodwill built up among their customers and their lead is so substantial over the other carriers, even their decline puts them so high above the other low-cost carriers," Hirneise adds.
However, Hirneise pointed out that Frontier, which ranks second among the low-cost carriers, recorded improvements across the entire airline experience, and is tightening the gap in the increasingly competitive sector.
"Frontier improved in all seven key drivers this year, even with having undergone an expansion," Hirneise explains.
For Continental, the airline network category leader, what really stands out is that they continued to improve upon their performance year-over-year, Hirneise says.
"They have improved on six of the seven key drivers--check-in satisfaction, boarding/deplaning/baggage, the process-focused areas--and have a service culture, making them one of four airlines that improved, while eight others declined.
"Continental is expediting the processes. Anything that can be done to save the passenger time has a profound impact on overall customer satisfaction," Hirneise says.
Following Continental in the airline network category are Delta, a second-place repeater, and American, which ranked third. Both airlines showed a decline across the seven key drivers, Hirneise explains, with American showing the largest decline in the in-flight services category.
"In-flight services includes the availability of food and beverage or the quality of services and the variety of in-flight entertainment," she says. "American has even stripped the pillow away over the past year."
The importance of in-flight service, and especially in-flight entertainment, to the overall customer satisfaction experience cannot be underestimated, with the survey finding that Generation X and Y passengers consider "must haves" the high-tech in-flight amenities, like JetBlue's satellite TV.
"Passengers still want the free movie, headset and in-flight meal, but they know that those days are gone by." Hirneise says.
"When you look at the emerging trends, Gen X and Gen Y are seven times more likely to say they want radio stations on board, power outlets, and in-flight video games than pre-Boomers and Baby Boomers. Carriers and manufacturers need to look at this. This generation is tech-savvy and used to instant access to entertainment and information."