Customer scores for Delta, US airlines hit record in pandemic - study

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Credit: Alyssa Pointer /

Delta ties Southwest for top spot, lifted by middle seat block

Customer satisfaction with Delta Air Lines and the airline industry overall reached record highs amid the pandemic, even as travel plummeted and traditional perks like snack service were scaled back, according to a new survey.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index travel report issued Tuesday showed Atlanta-based Delta for the first time tied with Southwest Airlines for the top spot in passenger satisfaction for the period from April 2020 to March 2021.

Airlines overall enjoyed record satisfaction levels, with seat comfort reaching an all-time high. “Less crowded flights mean better service for those that do fly,” the report said, adding that it’s yet to be seen if that will remain the case when more passengers return to the skies.

Delta blocked middle seats for months longer than other U.S. airlines, though the Atlanta-based carrier’s pandemic-driven policy comes to an end April 30. According to the ACSI report, blocking middle seats was “one of the key drivers of satisfaction for airlines.”

The improved rating came even as Delta cut back on in-flight meal and beverage service while slashing flights. For much of 2020, the airline offered most passengers only bottled water when it came to drinks, part of an effort to reduce contact and the risk of infections between flight attendants and customers.

Dallas-based Southwest, the second-largest carrier in Atlanta, has maintained a high satisfaction score in the ranking for years, though JetBlue Airways has taken the top spot in some years.

In the previous ACSI travel report, which covered roughly the first six months of the pandemic, Southwest ranked higher than Delta overall, with good scores for value and the check-in process, while Delta ranked highest for cleanliness and seat comfort.

Credit: Source: ACSI

Credit: Source: ACSI

The lowest-ranked airlines were ultra low-cost carriers Frontier and Spirit, which charge extra for carry-on luggage as well as checked bags. The airlines also charge for in-flight beverages and snacks.

The report is based on interviews with 7,898 customers from April 2020 through March 28, 2021. ACSI is a national economic indicator started at the University of Michigan and licensed to American Customer Satisfaction Index LLC.