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Consumer Reports Rates the Airlines

Consumer Reports Rates the Airlines

I’m a long-time fan of Consumer Reports. When it comes to evaluating consumer products and services, they are as rigorous and objective as it’s possible to be. They don’t accept advertising or other forms of corporate support, so there’s never a sense that their studies are being influenced by financial considerations.

I don’t always agree with their methodology or their conclusions, but I always take their findings seriously.

The company’s July issue includes a survey of U.S. airlines, including a ranking of the best (Virgin America) and worst (Spirit).

The results reflect input from 16,663 Consumer Reports subscribers, and include their ratings of five factors: check-in ease, inflight service, cabin cleanliness, baggage handling, seating comfort, and inflight entertainment.

The overall results.

1. Virgin America
2. Southwest
3. JetBlue
4. Hawaiian
5. Alaska
6. Frontier
7. Delta
8. US Airways
9. American
10. United
11. Spirit

The fact that the low-cost carriers, not including Spirit, handily trumped the full-service airlines suggests that travelers’ satisfaction is largely influenced by expectations. In other words, with lower fares come lower expectations; and with lower expectations come higher degrees of satisfaction with the same levels of service.

Spirit, on the other hand, managed to underperform even the low expectations consumers have come to expect from the airline that touts its bare-bones approach to service.

Reader Reality Check

Are the Consumer Reports findings consistent with your own assessments of U.S. airlines?

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  • Charles Hesser

    I normally like Consumer Reports, but I don’t necessarily agree with their methodology here. For example, the survey doesn’t take into account airport customer service, nor customer service via internet or phone. Furthermore, there is no evaluation of on-time performance. I realize that on-time performance/cancellations are frequently outside the control of airlines, but they are still factors that play a big role in customer satisfaction, and some carriers do a better job than others in terms of “controllable” delays.

  • Justin

    How is Delta the worst at IFE? They have WiFi on every flight and lots of DirecTV equipped planes…

  • trajanc

    List looks pretty solid to me.

  • Tom N

    ” In other words, with lower fares come lower expectations; and with lower expectations come higher degrees of satisfaction with the same levels of service.”

    I don’t agree as many airline prices can be very close on a given route. Southwest just generally treats their average passenger better than United for example. But my personal travel experiences with United as a 1K flier are much different (i.e. better) than what’s reflected in their rating. But can’t disagree with their baseline ratings given the categories they chose.

    Maybe they should have looked at things like convenience of booking travel, cancellation rate, on-time rate (as Charles noted), lost/delayed luggage rate (maybe that’s included in baggage handling?), cost/number of added ticket fees, for a better consumer view. I mean really, has anyone ever selected an airline because of in-flight entertainment?

  • Arif Baltacı

    different list