Posted June 17, 2008 by Carl Unger
As formerly free amenities such as, oh, onboard snacks vanish from the air travel landscape, the term "customer service" takes on a whole new meaning. Sure, there's still plenty of customer services to be found, but these nice little touches (if you can call checking bags a "nice little touch") are now the target of industry nickel-and-diming—a revenue source instead of a standard perk for passengers.
So into that fiery pit of cynicism, I toss the recent J.D. Power and Associates Airline Satisfaction Study, the annual report on customer satisfaction for the airline industry. JetBlue is number one again this year, giving it four consecutive years at the top of the heap, and it also took the low-cost carrier crown, for the third straight year. Alaska and Continental tied for the highest score among traditional network airlines. I won't get into the gory details of some of the lower-ranked airlines, but suffice it to say you won't find many surprises."
So here we go: Time to rant about endless fees and high fares dragging down the airlines' performance, right? Not so fast. According to the study, "Deteriorating levels of customer service provided by airline staff—rather than prices and additional charges for amenities—have led to a significant decline in customer satisfaction." Yep, high fares aren't leading to lower customer satisfaction; it's face-to-face interactions with airline staff that are causing problems.
Now, before we start yelling about rude flight attendants and unhelpful gate agents, the study does make it clear that the airlines' corporate management is still mostly to blame. According to Sam Thanawalla, director of the global hospitality and travel practice at J.D. Power, "Passengers are being affected by the ramifications of carriers making staff cutbacks and have expressed that performance and attitudes of airline staff are suffering."
See, the thing is that widespread staffing eliminations, poor economic conditions, and a generally uncertain future for the industry don't exactly add up to high employee morale. If 20 percent of your company was laid off and the six o'clock news was constantly prognosticating on the subject of your company's demise, you probably wouldn't come into work whistling show tunes, would you?
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