Airlines Approach Redemption From Different Angles
It seems finances aren't the only
things bankrupt from the traveling experience onboard some US
airlines, according to a recent survey of passenger complaints.
The University of Michigan released a customer satisfaction
survey Tuesday that ranked fresh-from-bankruptcy United Airlines
and Delta Air Lines last and next-to-last respectively in the
customer happiness department.
AMR Corp.'s American Airlines and Northwest Airlines didn't fare
much better, with only marginally better scores. (And yes, the
pun was intended -- Ed.)
As in any good recovery program, there is a step one. "The first
step in improvement here is to recognize that something is wrong,"
said Claes Fornell, a University of Michigan business professor and
director of the research center that compiled the data.
The airlines insist they are working very hard to improve the
experience of their customers, according to the Associated Press,
by concentrating their efforts on competent baggage handling and
basic human interaction.
"We know the service is not where it should be as far as baggage
delivery," said Betsy Talton, a spokeswoman for Atlanta-based
Delta. "We're concentrating on that this year so that we see
American spokesman Tim Wagner said there isn't much they can do
when flights are delayed because of the weather... a bane of the
Fort Worth, TX-based airline for the past several months.
"The one thing we can do is focus on the thing we can control,
and that's our face-to-face interaction with customers," Wagner
On the other side of the concourse, Southwest Airlines ranked
first and was one of only two airlines the survey mentioned by name
that improved in terms of customer satisfaction this year as
compared to last year. The other was Houston-based Continental
"We've done as well as we have up to date by making sure our
customers have a rich experience, and that's largely due to our
people," said Beth Harbin, a spokeswoman for Southwest, which also
is a consistently profitable airline.
During the first quarter this year, about 20,000 people were
asked to rate their level of satisfaction as customers of not only
the airlines, but of companies in a variety of industries. The
American Customer Satisfaction Index was created based on the
responses to questions about participants' perception of quality,
value and expectations, overall satisfaction and any intentions to
be a repeat customer. The survey scored from 1 to 100, with 100 the
Last year, the collective
airline industry scored a 65. This year - 63. Individually,
Southwest scored a 76, up from 74 last year; United scored a dismal
56. Then there's Delta, dragging in a 59 and American, a 60. Eagan,
MN-based Northwest was just as dismal at 61.
"The same problems that have pulled airline passenger
satisfaction down the past few years -- disenchanted employees,
increasing fuel costs, bankruptcy, and now also record levels of
lost, delayed and damaged luggage -- cause it to drop again," the
researchers said in their analysis.
UAL spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said it knows it needs to do a
better job giving United customers what they expect, so they hired
"Work is under way to make this a priority," Urbanski said,
saying the airline hired an executive last year to lead a brand-new
customer service division.
Talton said Delta, which exited bankruptcy April 30, has added
new in-flight entertainment and other products aimed at making
their employees and passengers happier.
"The morale of Delta people has improved," Talton said. "We know
that's important to our customers. That... makes our business run
smoothly, but it also is what provides a good experience to our