US airline passengers aren't happy. Here's why

Francesca Street, CNNPublished 11th May 2022
(CNN) — The airports are crowded, the flights are packed and air travel in the US and beyond is back in full swing.
But the return to the skies in the wake of the pandemic hasn't been entirely smooth: passengers seem more badly behaved than ever, flight cancellations feel increasingly commonplace and airlines are hiking fares as fuel prices soar.
Perhaps it's no surprise that North American airplane passenger satisfaction is declining across the board, at least according to consumer research company J.D. Power's 2022 North American Airline Satisfaction Study.
J.D. Power's report suggests that customers are frustrated by ticket cost, flight crew performance and even the aircraft they're traveling on -- and that's true whether they opt to travel economy, premium economy or business.
The study finds overall North American airline passenger satisfaction at 798 out of 1,000, down over 20 points from last year's report.
Still, certain airlines have come out on top in the report. Economy passengers rated Southwest Airlines highest with 849 points, while JetBlue triumphed in premium economy (851 points) and first/business (878 points).
Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power, said the overall decline in North American passenger satisfaction isn't "bad news," suggesting airlines could learn from the results to improve their offerings.
"If airlines can find ways to manage these growing volumes while making some small adjustments to help passengers feel more valued, they should be able to manage this return to 'normal,'" said Taylor in a statement.

A new era of flying

JetBlue took the top spot for premium economy and first/business class passenger satisfaction.
JetBlue took the top spot for premium economy and first/business class passenger satisfaction.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Last year's North American Airline Satisfaction Study results indicated travelers were enjoying some of the unexpected benefits of pandemic-era flights: fewer passengers, emptier flights and ticket flexibility.
Taylor suggested that the comparison between those height-of-Covid flights and travel today was behind this year's drop in satisfaction.
"Fewer passengers meant more space on airplanes, less waiting in line and more attention from flight attendants. But that business model was simply not sustainable," he said.
Some carriers, like American Airlines, only resumed selling alcohol on board recently. Limited beverage offerins could be reason for customer dissatisfaction, according to J.D. Power.
Some carriers, like American Airlines, only resumed selling alcohol on board recently. Limited beverage offerins could be reason for customer dissatisfaction, according to J.D. Power.
DANIEL SLIM/AFP/Getty Images
Equally, the report suggests there are some leftovers from pandemic flying that passengers would rather see the back of. J.D. Power draws a link between a decrease in food and beverage satisfaction in premium economy and business and the fact that many airlines didn't serve alcohol on board for much of last year.
As well as food and beverage options, the North America Airline Satisfaction Study also examined how happy passengers were with aircraft, baggage, boarding, check-in, cost and fees, flight crew, in-flight services and reservations.
Some 7,004 airplane passengers were surveyed from March 2021 through March 2022.

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

1. Southwest Airlines
2. JetBlue Airways
3. Delta Air Lines
4. Allegiant Air
5. Alaska Airlines
6. Air Canada
7. United Airlines
8. Spirit Airlines
9. American Airlines
10. Frontier Airlines
11. WestJet

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

1. JetBlue Airways
2. Delta Air Lines
3. Alaska Airlines
4. American Airlines
5. United Airlines
6. Air Canada

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

1. JetBlue Airways
2. Alaska Airlines
3. Delta Air Lines
4. Air Canada
5. United Airlines
6. American Airlines