At a time when UK air travellers are widely disgruntled with budget airlines charging checked baggage fees and ‘hidden extras’, an interesting picture is emerging in the US. According to a recent passenger satisfaction survey carried out Stateside, the two top-rated low-cost airlines are JetBlue and Southwest, both of which are more generous than rivals with perks such as free snacks and in-flight entertainment, and prove more reluctant to charge checked baggage fees.
The J.D. Power North America Airline Satisfaction Study shows that overall passenger satisfaction is down slightly, in the face of rising fares and fees combined with the disappearance of ‘perks’. Traditional carriers such as Continental, U.S. Airways, and American have seen their customer satisfaction ratings decrease during 2012.
While checked baggage fees and other ‘extras’ have become standard in the US airline industry, JetBlue and Southwest offer the most generous checked baggage policies. JetBlue carries the first checked bag for free and Southwest allows passengers to check two pieces of luggage at no charge. JetBlue is also generous with ‘extras’ that once weren’t considered extras but could now be chargeable perks with other carriers. The airline offers unlimited snacks and beverages to all passengers free of charge and provides in-flight entertainment.
Baggage fees are “a customer sore point,” according to J.D. Power’s study. Only 28% of travellers think that baggage fees are reasonable. Ratings average 85 points lower among passengers who had to pay to check baggage.
Spirit Airlines, which is somewhat similar in its behaviour to Ryanair, was not included in the survey.
On the topic of passenger expectations and satisfaction, the ‘Wall Street Journal’ noted: “Discount airlines tend to do better because passengers have low expectations and are pleasantly surprised by the service, the staff attitude and, in the cases of JetBlue, Southwest, and WestJet, the lack of bag fees for the first piece of checked luggage. By contrast, customers come to the traditional carriers expecting more and find perks being taken away.”
To some extent, this mirrors the situation in the UK, with passengers having low expectations of the budget airlines and booking cheap flights regardless of their personal feelings about the sneaky practises in the booking cart, the baggage rules and the levels of customer service. It would be interesting to see the effect on the UK budget airline market if one ‘low-cost’ airline started including a first checked bag as part of the overall fee.