Which are the best airlines of the year for customer service?
Ask passengers and they’ll mention favorites like JetBlue and Southwest (despite that airline’s holiday meltdown). And they’ll criticize legacy carriers like American and United, and the low-fare airlines that love to charge fees.
Travelers have been talking a lot lately.
Airline protests have taken place in record numbers this year. This summer, consumer complaints against airlines were nearly 270 percent above pre-pandemic levels. We’ll have to wait until early 2023 for this year’s total, but it’s not looking good.
So which airlines performed best for their customers? Which ones didn’t? And what, if anything, is the government doing about the state of airline customer service?
Here are the best airlines for customer service
Customers say they like perennial favorites, including JetBlue, Southwest, Delta and Alaska. And in 2022, those carriers reached for passengers again — up to a point.
Alex Beene, community coordinator in Nashville, recently flew to Dallas on Southwest Airlines. Weather and personnel issues led to delays. He was afraid he would miss his appointment in Dallas and approached a gate agent about his concerns.
“From that point on, they did everything possible to expedite my journey,” he says. “They let me board early so I could get a seat at the front of the plane. A flight attendant drew up a makeshift map showing me how to quickly get to ground transportation. To my shock, Southwest even gave me a $200 voucher $ for a future flight.”
Beene says he’s a customer for life.
Inez Stanway says her vote for best airline goes to Delta. A recent trip from Atlanta to Detroit stands out.
“The flight was smooth and on time,” says Stanway, who runs an art website in Atlanta. “The staff were helpful and kind, and I had absolutely no problems. It was a very pleasant experience.”
Research supports these experiences. Fordham University’s American Innovation Index ranked JetBlue as the top airline, followed by Southwest, Alaska and Delta. Lerzan Aksoy, the interim dean of Fordham’s business school, says these airlines go “above and beyond” when it comes to customer service.
“Customers appreciate when airlines go above and beyond to help customers through superior service and flexibility,” he added.
My favorite airlines of 2022
I haven’t flown to the United States this year, but I’ve had plenty of opportunities to try foreign airlines.
AIRLINES cat it is one of my favorite flying experiences of the year. I flew Gulf Air from Frankfurt to Doha and from Doha to Cape Town in economy class. Qatar cabin service was excellent and gave me plenty of legroom on both flights. Also, I wasn’t charged extra for my luggage — like the good old days.
TURKISH AIRLINES he also gets high marks. I flew the national carrier from Cape Town to Istanbul in business class and then across Turkey in economy class. I especially enjoyed the in-flight food, from the incredible Turkish coffee to the freshly baked simit (bagels). Turkish hospitality is legendary.
SAS it took me from London to Oslo and from Bergen to Split, Croatia this fall. Although the airline was struggling financially, this did not stop it from providing first class service. When people complain about the death of European carriers, they obviously aren’t talking about SAS.
These are the worst airlines for customer service
The worst airlines are also known. Passengers report negative experiences with some legacy carriers and low-fare airlines known for their fees.
Denis Sirshikov recalls a recent American Airlines flight from Mexico City to New York with his wife and three young children. As they boarded, a crew member ordered him to check their cart. Shirshikov, who runs a real estate investment firm in New York, says he avoided it because the stroller was a regular size and he needed it to transport his children. “It was very confrontational,” he says.
By the time he got to JFK, the cart was gone. Finally he found it in the lost and found them. It was bent and scratched but still worked. His relationship with American Airlines was irretrievably damaged. He says he will avoid Americans from now on.
But even airlines like United weren’t as bad as they used to be, at least in terms of customer service. American’s Innovation Index found United to be the most improved airline over the past five years, with its score rising 15 points on a 100-point scale. Customers like United because they are easy to work with and have a good loyalty program.
It’s not perfect. “United has significant delays in processing refunds and cancellations,” says Molly Egan, a hospitality planner in Denver.
Department of Transportation (DOT) complaint data supports this list of least favorite companies. In the first half of 2022, American Airlines had the most complaints (3,186), followed by United Airlines (2,391), Spirit Airlines (1,909) and Frontier Airlines (1,750).
Government: Airline service may have hit rock bottom in 2022
Ask the US government and you might come away thinking that airlines offer the worst service ever.
The Department of Transportation fined a record $7.25 million last month to six airlines that failed to refund tickets for flights that were canceled or significantly changed during the pandemic. The government is also issuing four other aviation protection orders — fines against airlines for violating the department’s regulations or engaging in unfair and deceptive practices.
Earlier this year, airline regulators proposed a new rule that would make it easier to get refunds when a flight is canceled or significantly delayed. It will also allow passengers to receive non-expiring flight credits when they cancel their flights for pandemic-related reasons, such as a government travel ban.
The Department for Transport has created a new customer service dashboard that publishes information about how each airline handles delays or cancellations. For example, you can find out if your airline offers hotels, meal vouchers or ground transportation to the hotel when you need to stay overnight at the airport.
This year could be a time of reckoning for airlines as some of these rules have been adopted by regulators. And, barring a miracle, Southwest probably won’t end up on anyone’s 2023 bucket list after its holiday collapse. (But if anyone can cover passengers, it’s probably Southwest.)
But that is not all. Congress will next consider the FAA reauthorization bill, which funds the FAA. Traditionally, it’s an opportunity for lawmakers to weigh in on the industry’s performance with new legislation.
Given last summer’s spate of delays and cancellations and the terrible end of 2022 thanks to Southwest, it’s unlikely the industry will continue to get away with this behavior.