Airline passenger satisfaction declines in J.D. Power ranking

Delta drops in ranking, while Southwest is tops for economy in study.
Travelers line up at check-in counters at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Nov. 17, 2021. Credit: John Spink / AJC

Credit: John Spink

Credit: John Spink

Travelers line up at check-in counters at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on Nov. 17, 2021. Credit: John Spink / AJC

The frustrations of congested airport terminals and crowded planes are returning on top of the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And it’s causing a decline in customer satisfaction with air travel, according to the latest J.D. Power survey.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, which drew accolades for keeping middle seats empty earlier in the pandemic but has since returned to regularly filling planes, took a significant hit in the latest J.D. Power ranking.

Delta reached a long-coveted top spot overall in the J.D. Power study of North American airlines last year, but dropped to a lower position in all three categories of this year’s study: economy, premium economy and first class/business class.

Overall passenger satisfaction declined sharply across the board compared with last year, according to J.D. Power.

The consumer insights company opted to split the ranking into three categories to reflect how people buy tickets and “their changed expectations of service levels based on what they’re buying,” said J.D. Power travel intelligence lead Michael Taylor.

Southwest Airlines, the second-largest carrier at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, ranked highest in the economy class segment.

Dallas-based Southwest, which offers only economy class seats on its planes and no fees for checked bags, has customers who “believe they have great value for the money” and friendly service, Taylor said. JetBlue ranked second and Delta ranked third in the economy class segment.

New York-based JetBlue ranked highest in the premium economy segment, just ahead of Delta.

JetBlue also ranked highest for the first class/business class segment, with accolades for its lie-flat Mint suites on long-haul flights, including some domestic cross-country flights. While Delta, American and United have business class on long-haul international flights, 99% of the passengers in the J.D. Power study are flying domestic.

The study was based on a survey of passengers conducted from March 2021 through March 2022. Some travelers last year were frustrated with cutbacks in in-flight food and beverage service due to the pandemic, according to Taylor. Airlines have been gradually restoring some of that service.

Rising air fares are also becoming an issue. The cost of traveling has increased with higher fuel costs and fare hikes, a situation Taylor expects will worsen in coming months.

Some airlines are cutting their flight schedules because they are struggling with staffing, which is expected to result in crowded planes and higher fares, particularly during the busy summer travel season.

“We’re going to start talking about how expensive it is to fly,” he said. “The biggest factor in satisfaction is whether people feel they’re getting value for their money. That’s harder to do in inflationary times and when airlines are raising ticket prices.”

J.D. Power 2022 North American Airline Satisfaction Study

Economy/Basic Economy segment

1. Southwest Airlines, 849

2. JetBlue Airways, 828

3. Delta Air Lines, 813

4. Allegiant Air, 803

5. Alaska Airlines, 794

6. Air Canada, 777

7. United Airlines, 774

8. Spirit Airlines, 772

9. American Airlines, 770

10. Frontier Airlines, 755

11. WestJet, 750

Scores based on 1,000-point scale