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December 16, 2020

Airlines fly to record-high customer satisfaction during pandemic. Here’s how

David Vanamburg

For the past two years, passenger satisfaction with airlines has been climbing. Over the last six months, it’s reached new heights.

Per our Special COVID-19 Travel Report 2020 – based on surveys conducted from April 1, 2020 to September 30, 2020–satisfaction with the industry soars 1.3% to its all-time high ACSI score of 76 (out of 100).

Even before that, airlines were on an upward trajectory. They were the only travel industry to improve satisfaction from April 2019 to March 2020.

How could this happen at a time when airlines were cutting schedules, planes were flying nearly empty, and cancellations rose to 41% (in April 2020)? Which airlines rose to the occasion – in the middle of a global pandemic – to meet the needs of their customers?

Let’s discuss.

Airlines offering a more ‘comfortable’ experience

In the past six months, seat comfort is the only element of the passenger experience that improves. While it continues to be one the worst aspects of flying, airlines have made significant strides in this area in recent years.

In 2015, seat comfort had an ACSI score of 64. In 2019, it climbed to 69. A year later, it reached 72. Since March 2020, that number is up 3% to 74 – an all-time high.

Much of this most recent rise can be attributed to carriers blocking middle seats during the pandemic to allow for social distancing.

Although no other factors improve over the six-month COVID-19 period, many benchmarks remain in good standing. Per passengers, mobile apps lead the way, as both reliability and quality score 82. Passengers also feel good about the check-in process and website satisfaction despite each dipping 1% to a score of 81.

Furthermore, passengers are quite happy with baggage handling, flight crew courtesy, gate staff courtesy, loyalty programs, and on-time arrivals, all touching down with a score of 79.

Southwest shines while Delta takes off in a major way

Southwest climbs to the top spot in the airline industry after rising 1% to 80. Per our most recent data, customers believe Southwest has the smoothest check-in process and provides the best value. The airline also improves in the quality of its in-flight entertainment, seat comfort, and the availability and size of overhead storage.

For the first time since 2004, Delta moves into second place. The airline soars 3% to a record-high score of 79.

As early as April, Delta put in serious social distancing measures, blocking the middle seats on its flights. It’s the only major airline to keep this policy in place through March 30, 2021. Passengers have taken notice, as the airline now holds the top score for seat comfort. Delta has also prioritized cleanliness and leads that area as well.

Airlines have more room to grow

Although airlines are the only travel industry to make positive strides over the past six months, there’s still room for improvement.

Passengers find it more difficult to make reservations (down 2% to 80) since March 2020, while the boarding experience and call center interactions are also worse for wear, each sliding 3% to a score of 78.

Still, during a period when fewer people are traveling and the industry is facing major financial hurdles, airlines are keeping customers satisfied. And those customers won’t soon forget it.

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