Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Airline customer satisfaction falls (AP)


By Associated Press | May 15, 2007

ATLANTA -- Bankruptcy can be a wake-up call for airlines about the need to run their operations more efficiently, but it also can shine a light on a more basic challenge like making customers happy.

United Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc., both of which restructured under Chapter 11 in recent years, ranked last and next-to-last, respectively, among airlines in terms of customer satisfaction in a survey to be released today by the University of Michigan.

Marks were only slightly better for AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, which teetered on the verge of bankruptcy before winning employee concessions in 2003, and Northwest Airlines Corp., which is currently in bankruptcy.

There were some bright spots for a few airlines in the survey. Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. ranked first, and was one of only two airlines mentioned by name in the survey that improved in terms of customer satisfaction this year compared with last year. Houston-based Continental Airlines Inc. was the other.

"We've done as well as we have up to date by making sure our customers have a rich experience, and that's largely due to our people," said Beth Harbin, a spokeswoman for Southwest, which also is one of the few consistently profitable airlines.

About 20,000 people were asked during the first quarter of this year to rate their level of satisfaction as customers of companies in a variety of industries, including the airlines.

"The same problems that have pulled airline passenger satisfaction down the past few years -- disenchanted employees, increasing fuel costs, bankruptcy, and now also record levels of lost, delayed, and damaged luggage -- cause it to drop again," the researchers said in their analysis.

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