September 11, 2017 Atlanta: Delta Air Lines canceled 900 flights as tropical storm Irma made its way towards Atlanta. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

Airline customer satisfaction declines

Satisfaction with airlines has declined 2.7 percent in the past year, according to a new American Customer Satisfaction Index report.

The report, based on a survey of 12,172 people between April 2017 and March 2018, showed the decline after “a year of customer service crises and rising ticket prices,” according to ACSI.

Those surveyed said the areas that need improvement are flight crew courtesy, baggage handling and reservations, with seat comfort getting the lowest rating.

Passengers are the most satisfied with the check-in process, and they “appear to have become accustomed to” baggage fees, the report says.

According to the index, the top-ranked airline was Southwest Airlines, which reclaimed the lead from JetBlue Airways — “likely a reflection of low fares and focus on customer service,” according to ACSI. JetBlue and Alaska Airlines tied for second place.

Southwest is the second-largest airline at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. JetBlue launched service to Atlanta last year.

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines ranked in the middle of the pack, at sixth place out of nine carriers.

Spirit Airlines and Frontier Airlines tied for last place.

“Customer satisfaction is going to be lower for the ultra-low-cost carriers, which are focused more on price than quality, and the scores reflect that,” ACSI managing director David VanAmburg said in a written statement. “As costs rise and seats shrink, a focus on customer service and loyalty will set some airlines apart.”

Low fuel prices in 2014-2016 led to a decline in air fares, but more recently increases in jet fuel prices and employees’ pay have driven costs up. The ACSI report noted that competition is limited: 80 percent of the U.S. airline market is controlled by four big airlines: United, American, Delta and Southwest.

The survey found that business travelers are more likely to complain than leisure travelers. More than a third of business travelers said they filed a complaint with the airline, versus 11 percent of leisure travelers. Yet business travelers indicated in the survey that they are more satisfied with airlines.