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What Factors Affect Airline Customer Satisfaction?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 17, 2024
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Airline customer satisfaction is affected by the many factors, but at its root, this type of customer satisfaction is no different from that of any other business. Problematically, airlines are affected by many regulations and provide a service that is highly complex, so not all factors that affect customer satisfaction are fully within the airline's control. As such, many airlines attempt to make up the difference by providing exceptional customer service and comfort and through high-quality presentation. The customer's perception of who to blame for problems when flying is typically not informed by an understanding of the airline industry, however, and a major factor affecting airline customer satisfaction is how artfully the airline deals with problems that might not even be the company's fault.

In most cases, airline customer satisfaction is most deeply affected by customer service and complaint management. Travel is stressful, and a problem with customer service can lead to very poor airline customer satisfaction ratings even if the trip itself is comfortable and free from delays. Reductions in in-flight services also can negatively affect an airline's customer satisfaction rating, but the problem with these services is primarily that people's expectations are not being met. When a previously included item is taken away, customer satisfaction typically goes down, even if the price of the overall service also goes down.

Airline customer satisfaction also is affected by factors outside the airline's control. Safety regulations, weather delays and many other problems can affect customer satisfaction. Travel that is delayed, no matter the cause, typically reduces satisfaction overall, and the blame is placed on the airline rather than the actual cause. In most cases, airlines consider safety and legality to be more important than customer satisfaction.

The actual structure of the plane can affect customer satisfaction for airlines, because much of the time that a passenger spends flying is in a seat. Leg room and seat comfort are not always major considerations for passengers, but most people do feel less stressed when flying comfortably. Stress can be reduced with in-flight services such as movies, but very few services can make up for physical discomfort when flying.

It sometimes is difficult to measure actual customer satisfaction for airlines in ways that are objective. Many travelers complain about flying, but most passengers still would choose air travel over other forms of transportation. Even when satisfaction changes from year to year, this does not always reflect changes in services, as it might in other industries. Although flying is a business, the safety of all travelers is more important than the individual comfort of each traveler. Sometimes airlines must compromise on passenger comfort and satisfaction to remain operational.

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Discussion Comments

By Grivusangel — On Feb 12, 2014

I think people understand weather delays and that sort of thing. What they don't understand is how arbitrary the airlines can be about allowing customers to use their frequent flyer miles, how they are charged a huge fee for changing even the spelling of a name on a ticket, and how they have to pay a premium for a refundable ticket, just so they won't get skunked if they have to cancel for some reason.

I read a travel troubleshooter's column regularly and the things he lists that airlines have done that are just horrible customer service are little short of shocking. He's written about everything from irritated flight attendants kicking a family off a plane because their child wouldn't stop crying, to stories of passengers sitting for hours on the tarmac during a delay, and not being offered any kind of beverages -- and sometimes not being allowed to use the bathroom.

Unfortunately, many of these stories seem to be happening more and more frequently as airlines become more and more concerned with the bottom line and less interested in their passengers, except as a disposable commodity.

Now, with baggage fees going up, and people being charged for the most basic amenities, it’s pretty obvious most airlines aren’t in the flying business to make people happy anymore.

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