Customer satisfaction with U.S. airlines dropped to its lowest level since 2001, according to a survey report published on Tuesday.
As passengers face higher airfares, crowded planes and flight delays, the quarterly A University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index found a drop of 1 point for airlines, to 62 on a 100-point scale.
It was the third consecutive decline for the airline industry. Sixteen industries were evaluated in this year's first quarter, and none scored as low as the airlines.
There were too many lost pieces of luggage and too many flights not on time, says Claes Fornell, a professor of marketing and business who compiled the data.
With the soaring cost of jet fuel, airlines are raising ticket prices, overbooking flights and charging extra for premium seats and checking more than one bag.
The index, which Fornell says is the only national measure of product quality from a consumer's perspective, evaluates 43 industries.
There's no other industry anywhere that has so many basic mishaps in terms of not delivering the basics, Fornell said. They're supposed to deliver passengers with their luggage to a particular destination within a certain timeframe, and they frequently fail to do that.
Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co.'s score rose 3 points to 79 on a zero-to-100 scale, leading the airline segment for the 15th year in a row. A score in the 70s indicates a high degree of customer satisfaction, Fornell said.
Southwest remains popular with passengers because it doesn't overpromise passengers and is remarkably consistent with the product it offers, analysts said.
Delta Air Lines, up 2 percent to 60, and AMR Corp's American Airlines, up 3 percent to 62, were the only other major airlines to post gains in customer satisfaction.
UAL Corp's United Airlines and US Airways Group Inc, which have recently been in merger talks, received the lowest scores in the poll: 56 and 54, respectively.
Around 26,000 people responded to the survey during the first quarter of this year, which rated their level of satisfaction as customers in a variety of industries.
An American Customer Satisfaction Index, on a scale of 1 to 100, was established as response to questions about overall satisfaction, intention to be a repeat customer and perception of quality, value and expectations.