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J.D. Power: Airline satisfaction reaches all-time high during pandemic; Delta ranks on top

The Points Guy logo The Points Guy 5/12/2021 David Slotnick
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In 2020, about 60% fewer people flew on commercial airlines in the U.S. as the coronavirus pandemic brought the world to a virtual shutdown.

But the people who did fly were happier than ever with their airlines, according to J.D. Power.

According to the consumer research firm’s 2021 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, the airline industry saw a marked increase in customer satisfaction, climbing to 819 points on a 1,000 point scale — a jump of 27 points over the previous year.

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The improvement was largely driven by how airlines responded to the pandemic, said Michael Taylor, J.D. Power’s travel intelligence lead.

“The airline industry adapted to a most unusual year by simplifying ticketing processes, waiving change fees and baggage fees which were key to persuading people to fly during the pandemic,” Taylor said. “Airline personnel rose to meet the challenges of a drastically altered travel environment.”

“Maintaining that level of flexibility and recognition of individual passenger needs will be a strategic advantage for airlines that want to set themselves apart in passenger satisfaction as travel volumes start to recover,” he added.

There were several standout findings that helped propel overall consumer satisfaction.

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Video: This Airline Study Ranked Southwest No. 1 in 2020 (Travel + Leisure)

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Satisfaction with flight crews rose 26 points, thanks to the work flight attendants and pilots did to explain and enforce various new health and safety policies during the pandemic. Empty middle seats, mask requirements, and flexible itineraries all contributed to customer satisfaction, too, with passengers interpreting the moves as genuine effort and concern from the airlines.

The findings are consistent with market research results that airline CEOs have touted throughout the pandemic.

For instance, Delta CEO Ed Bastian said that customer loyalty was at an all-time high thanks to the airline’s — and its employees’ — response to the pandemic.

More: The best travel credit cards of May 2021

“This is evident in our domestic customer Net Promoter Scores, which have been in the low 70s throughout the pandemic, a full 20 point increase over 2019,” Bastian said during an investor call in April.

Airline rankings

The J.D. Power study also ranks airlines. This year, Delta ranked the highest, the first time it had taken the top spot since 1995. Notably, Delta was the last airline to begin filling middle seats again. Southwest ranked second, and Alaska came in third.

Unlike in previous years, the 2021 study ranked all airlines together, rather than distinguishing between “traditional” airlines and low-cost carriers.

Scroll down for J.D. Power’s list of the top ranking airlines:

  1. Delta Air Lines (860 points on a 1,000-point scale)
  2.  Southwest Airlines (856)
  3. Alaska Airlines (850)
  4. JetBlue Airways (849)
  5. United Airlines (810)
  6. American Airlines (791)
  7. Air Canada (759)

Featured photo by Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto via Getty Images

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Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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