« »

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Air travel quality has been stagnant among U.S. airlines

Americans complained three millionths of a percent less to the government about a declining quality of air travel last year. In other words, out of every 100,000 people, less than one or .3 people had fewer qualms with airline logistics than in 2012. Perhaps it is because they do not have time or because expectations of airline travel are lower, but according to a study conducted by academics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Wichita State University, the lower level of consumer satisfaction is evident in the Department of Transportation's published Air Travel Consumer Report.

Reasons for lower quality

Air travel quality standards
Traveler complaints fell despite lower quality of service
Consumer complaints were one of several variables used in the air transportation quality study. These consumer complaints where themselves divided in to several smaller categories such as flight problems, reservation complications, baggage issues, discrimination and several others.

Among the majority or 64.5 percent of consumer complaints made in 2013, dissatisfaction with flights, customer service and baggage handling were prevalent. The consumer complaints were weighted in a formula that seeks to provide a less subjective airline quality rating. However, the very small difference between year-over-year data is too small to be considered a substantial decline.

Reasons for complaints

It is worth noting that the research data used in the co-authored study was not consistent among different airlines. Moreover, independent of consumer complaints, airline quality was actually found to have improved. To explain further, various airlines had differing levels of performance based on the study data. For example, according to the Associated Press, smaller regional airlines received poorer grades. In addition, the nature of smaller airlines is said to make them more vulnerable to poor weather and therefore more likely to incur problems that negatively effect fliers. Of the best performing airlines, Virgin Atlantic scored best per CNN.

Other research

Although the aforementioned research claims to have a statistical advantage due to consistent annual measurements, it is not the only industry research. For instance, J.D. Power and Associates also conducts surveys about the airline industry and the resulting data is published on its website. Furthermore, its data found that Alaska Airlines/Horizon Air had the highest level of consumer satisfaction among several airlines. Whether or not either of the studies is truly reflective of consumer opinions is debatable as the population sample for the government related data consisted of less than 10,000 people.

Consumer variables

Consumer satisfaction is not always within an airline's control. For example, some airlines recently announced they will no longer be including limes for in-flight beverage services due to supply problems; unforeseen airplane maintenance issues also have a negative impact. Another factor is ticket prices; if they rise more than the average rate of inflation, but service quality remains flat or decreases, then there is chance consumer dissatisfaction will increase. Yet another variable are the airports themselves; if they become more crowded and the airports do not adjust their services to accommodate that increase, then the pre-flight portion of air transportation services is also influenced.

As demand for airline services increases and as airline shareholders seek annual profits, pressure on airlines to to trim travel benefits and cut corners on quality of service rises due to cost reasons as well as capacity restrictions. Although the data in the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/Wichita State University study was largely unchanged in regard to the overall Airline Quality Rating, several of the year-over-year changes measured were small. In light of this, it is difficult to quantitatively conclude that the quality of air travel and consumer satisfaction with air travel was significantly different in the last two years based on the research results.

Image: Pbsouthwood, "Lufthansa 737 interior", CC BY 2.0