A new study of airline quality shows that no-frills airlines
generally provide better customer service than traditional
The annual airline quality rating explains why low-cost carriers
like Southwest and JetBlue are taking customers from the big
airlines, its authors say.
It "adds further evidence to the emerging performance
gap between the legacy carriers and the no-frills network
carriers," said Brent Bowen, director of the University
of Nebraska's aviation institute and a co-author of the study.
JetBlue had the second-best on-time performance, arriving
punctually 86 percent of the time. Its passengers also filed
fewer complaints 0.31 per 100,000 to the Transportation
Department than all other airlines but Southwest.
Southwest, with 0.14 complaints per 100,000 customers, consistently
generates the lowest complaint rate in the industry, the report
Continental and Northwest were tied for most complaints,
0.95 per 100,000 customers.
Dean Headley, a study co-author and associate professor of
marketing at Wichita State University, said most of the low-cost
carriers were above the industry average on four performance
indicators last year. Most of the traditional airlines were
below the industry average, he said.
"The low-fare carriers are definitely solid in their
ability to attract passengers, and it shows in the market
share gains that they're making," Headley said.
He said low-cost airlines comprised 4 percent of the market
when he began the study in 1991. Now they carry one-quarter
of all passengers; Headley expects them to transport four
in 10 by 2006.
The report rated the 14 U.S. airlines that carried at least
1 percent of the 587 million passengers who flew last year.
Four low-cost carriers AirTran, ATA, Atlantic Southeast
and JetBlue met that threshold for the first time in
Alan Bender, an aviation professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical
University in Daytona Beach, Fla., said the traditional airlines
will still offer something that the low-cost carriers often
don't: connecting flights to any commercial airport on the
planet, first-class service and frequent flier miles.
"This doesn't mean the high-cost carriers are down and
out," Bender said. "The survey seems to count out
the fact that a large percentage of business people need ubiquitous
service at any time of day."
He also said American travelers are addicted to frequent
flier miles. "Business travelers will avoid low-cost
carriers because they're not going to get miles that will
take them to Hawaii," he said.
The report was based on Transportation Department statistics.