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Mixed reviews for airlines in the latest J.D. Powers passenger rankings

Mixed reviews for North American airlines in the latest passenger rankings from J.D. Powers

Overall scores are down significantly, but frequent flyers remain “kind of” satisfied – here are the rankings from economy to first class.

By Francesca Street, CNN

(CNN) – Airports are crammed, flight fares are up and airlines are looking ahead to a hectic summer.

And all the while North American travelers are kind of dissatisfied – at least according to consumer research company J.D. Power’s 2024 North American Airline Satisfaction Study.

J.D. Power’s annual survey asks passengers to rate an airline’s staff; digital tools; ease of travel; overall trust levels; on-board experience; pre/post-flight experience; and overall value for money.

This year’s survey suggests “some airlines” are managing to deliver great customer experiences, as J.D. Power puts it, but the market is challenging – and even the high scores aren’t especially high.

Unlike in previous years, J.D. Power hasn’t revealed an overall North American airline passenger satisfaction score, with Mike Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power, telling CNN Travel they’ve chosen instead “to concentrate on who wins which seat class segment.”

Coming out top in this year’s rankings for economy class air travel is Southwest Airlines, with an overall score of 685 out of 1,000.

That’s a win for Southwest, which also topped last year’s economy rankings – although this year’s winning score is considerably lower than 2023’s 827 out of 1,000.

Meanwhile in the premium economy rankings, Delta Air Lines grades highest, with 716 points. The airline also came in at number one for premium economy passengers in 2023, with a score of 848.

Delta ranked highest in J.D. Power’s 2024 first/business rankings too, with a score of 743. Last year, JetBlue came first in this category, with a score of 893.

Changing criteria

In general, comparisons to previous iterations of the survey aren’t super helpful, as the report’s been slightly rejigged this year. There are some new questions in the mix. And for the first time, rather than ranking each factor on a scale of 1 to 10, passengers were asked to use a six point “poor to perfect” scale.

“Respondents are less likely to award a ‘perfect’ score which is why you see scores that are lower than last year,” suggests Taylor. “Doesn’t mean the airlines are doing worse, just reflects the scale change.”

With that in mind, J.D. Power suggests the main takeaway from this year’s survey isn’t lower scores, but the tangible difference made by well-trained airline staff.

In the report summary, J.D. Power notes Southwest and Delta’s “significantly higher scores in all areas where interpersonal interactions can make a difference” and suggests these airlines “have made substantial investments in the people side of their business.”

Taylor adds that these airlines “spend a great deal of training time (or hiring efforts) to increase positive personal interaction among the flight attendants/gate crew and the flying public.”

“We see that sustained efforts in these areas seem to be paying off with greater satisfaction with the airline,” he says.

According to J.D. Power, this year’s survey results also indicate that media coverage has a “major influence” on customer perceptions of airlines.

If passengers read a “negative” news story about an airline, they in turn view the carrier with a more skeptical eye, Taylor says.

“We ask respondents if they remember seeing any news stories in the media about the airline, ask them to characterize the news as negative to positive and then correlate that to the level of trust with the airline,” says Taylor, adding this is a “new set of questions” added to the survey this year, so it’ll be interesting to see how this trend develops in years to come.

The 2024 J.D. Power study is based on responses from 9,582 passengers during the period spanning March 2023 to March 2024. All respondents had to have flown on a major North America airline within the month prior to completing their survey.

According to Taylor, the report suggests that what passengers want more than anything is “a safe, comfortable and time-efficient flight.” Airlines can’t control factors like the weather, but well-trained, friendly staff “create happier and more loyal customers.”

“It makes a big difference,” says Taylor. “And can help airlines stand out in a competitive environment and when people are being picky with their spending.”

J.D. Power’s top North American airlines for economy passengers

1. Southwest Airlines

2. Delta Air Lines

3. Allegiant Air

4. Alaska Airlines

5. JetBlue Airways

6. American Airlines

7. WestJet

8. United Airlines

9. Air Canada

10. Spirit Airlines

11. Frontier Airlines

J.D. Power’s top North American airlines for premium economy passengers

1. Delta Air Lines

2. Alaska Airlines

3. American Airlines

4. JetBlue Airways

5. WestJet

6. United Airlines

7. Air Canada

J.D. Power’s top North American airlines for first/business passengers

1. Delta Air Lines

2. JetBlue Airways

3. United Airlines

3. Alaska Airlines

4. American Airlines

5. Air Canada

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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Francesca Street, Cnn