Airlines Top Consumer Poll

Ready for the airline ad comeback? Do you need evidence that advertising is working for the category? Positive data about the airline industry came in a big dose today as University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index air travelers are happier with America's commercial airlines than they have been in five years. This despite increased wait times and more stringent security checks for passengers.

The airline industry improved its ACSI score by 8% (from 61 to 66) from a year ago -- marking the only time the airlines have shown improvement in customer satisfaction since the inception of the ACSI in 1994. All of the major airlines showed improvement.

The ACSI measures customer evaluations of the quality of goods and services available to household consumers, and is updated each quarter. Overall, the national aggregate ACSI score for 35 industries in the 1st quarter of 2002 rose to 73 (out of a possible 100), the second straight quarterly improvement and the highest overall score in six years.

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Claes Fornell, professor of business and director of the University of Michigan Business School's National Quality Research Center, says that the biggest surprise among industries measured in the current ACSI report is the improvement in customer satisfaction with the nation's airlines -- which comes at a time when losses are mounting for most of them. Once again, Southwest Airlines leads the way in airline customer satisfaction, with an ACSI score of 74, followed by Continental Airlines (68) and Delta Airlines (66). The largest improvement, however, came from Northwest Airlines, which saw its ACSI score jump 16 percent (from 56 to 65).

While the airline industry posted the largest gain in the current ACSI, energy utilities also showed improvement, raising their collective score nearly 6 percent (from an industry-low 69 to 73). Pacific Gas & Electric made the biggest stride among all of the gas and electric companies as its ACSI score climbed 18% to 58 (up from 49, the lowest score ever for a company in the history of the ACSI). Another sector that showed some improvement in customer satisfaction, albeit small, was the telecommunication industry, inching upward from an ACSI score of 70 last year to 71 this year. Sprint Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. paced the long-distance phone companies with scores of 74, while BellSouth Corp. topped the local phone services with the same mark.

In other industries, customer satisfaction was up 1% among parcel delivery-express mail services (from 78 to 79), as Federal Express Corp. held steady with a score of 82 and United Parcel Service improved to 80. Broadcast television rose from 62 to 65; and newspapers (63) and motion pictures (70) both declined, 7% and 1%, respectively.

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