Southwest Customer Satisfaction Takes Hit While This Airline Takes Top Spot

by Miles Jackson

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Alaska Airlines has taken the top spot in customer satisfaction as No. 1 as Southwest stumbles, most likely attributable to the Boeing 737 Max controversy.

Customer Satisfaction Index For Airlines

The Seattle-based airline landed in the top spot in the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) Travel Report released on Tuesday.  Alaska pushed out last year’s winner, Southwest Airlines, which dropped into third position.

The annual ACSI report measured responses from almost 13,000 travelers on measurements such as an airline’s on-time arrivals and departures, baggage handling and cleanliness. Each carrier then received a score from 0 to 100. Passengers’ satisfaction with Alaska Airlines, which acquired Virgin America in 2016, leaped over Southwest to garner a ASCI score of 80. That represents a one percent gain over Alaska’s rating last year.

Southwest Falls to Third Place In Customer Satisfaction

JetBlue and Southwest tied for second place; each with a score of 79. JetBlue’s ACSI score remained unchanged from the previous year while Southwest dropped one percent, giving up its top place position from last year. The report blamed Southwest’s losses on “the recent safety concerns surrounding the Boeing 737 Max.” Southwest has more 737 Max aircraft in its fleet than any other airline.

ACSI noted: “Recent deadly crashes of the Boeing 737 Max (for Ethiopian Airlines and Air Lion) have left Southwest particularly vulnerable to safety concerns.” Southwest canceled 9,400 flights during the first quarter of 2019 as a result of safety concerns with the Boeing 737 Max as well as bad weather in the quarter. Southwest reported losing more than $200 million in revenue during the first quarter. It grounded all of its 737 Max aircraft (a total of 34) through August 5th, as they await re-certification by the FAA.

It can still be worthwhile to get a Southwest credit card, like the  Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card, if you’re looking to fast track to elite status with the Rapid Rewards program.

Overall Airline Passenger Satisfaction Is Up

The ACSI also remarked that overall passenger satisfaction with the US domestic airlines is up 1.4% to a score of 75, with the ACSI reporting that this is a noticeable improvement. ACSI managing director David VanAmburg said “Airlines sat at a near-record low of 62 just a dozen years ago, now they’re among some of the most improved industries over that time.”

Other domestic airlines also improved. The airlines that showed improved satisfaction scores included Delta, Frontier, United and Spirit.

American Airlines slipped a significant 1 percent to land at 73, which is below the industry average of 75. United Airlines saw a 4 percent improvement managing a score of 70, but still sits along the bottom three airlines, with Frontier (score of 64) and Spirit with a score of 63 bringing up the rear. Of all the airlines scored, Allegiant took the biggest hit in its ACSI, dropping 4 percent to 71.

The Upshot

While it is great to see that passenger satisfaction is on the rise with the US domestic airline carriers, there’s still a lot of work to do for carriers like United. Meanwhile, Alaska Airlines and Delta are growing in momentum in the US market.

I am looking forward to seeing how the entire Boeing 737 Max dilemma finally plays out. Southwest executives are wishing the same I suspect and hoping to get those aircraft back into service.

Do these scores strike you as accurate of your personal satisfaction scores? 


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OR97 May 1, 2019 - 12:29 pm

Maybe Alaska is first just on their own merits? Not because of the 737max? This is especially true since Alaska’s score did increase. They do a great job and are always in consideration for top rated in the service category. I’ll never understand how SW can score as high as they do when you can’t choose your seat….

Miles Jackson May 1, 2019 - 1:51 pm

You are quite right that Alaska continues to perform well in many polls. Thank you for your comments and for reading our article.


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