Satisfaction with North American airlines rose for a third straight year, according to the J.D Power study. Satisfaction measured at a record high 717 points on a scale of 1,000. That's a five-point increase from 2014 and a 22-point increase since 2013.
The study measured passenger satisfaction with North American airlines based on seven criteria, ranked in order of importance: costs and fees; in-flight services; boarding, deplaning and baggage; flight crew; aircraft; check-in; and reservations.
Alaska Airlines continued to dominate the rankings of North American legacy carriers for the eighth consecutive year, earning 719 points, followed by Delta Air Lines in second place (709 points) and American Airlines in third place (700 points).
The average rating for the legacy carriers increased eight points to 691 points out of a possible 1,000. Air Canada came in fourth with 683 points, followed by American Airlines-owned US Airways (668 points) and United Airlines (665 points).
JetBlue Airways continued to win over travelers in the low-cost category, ranking first for the 11th consecutive year, with 801 points out of a possible 1,000 points. Southwest Airlines came in second place (781 points), followed by WestJet in third place (715 points). The average rating for the low-cost carriers increased 75 points to 766 points out of a possible 1,000.
The key drivers of the increase were satisfaction with flight crew, in-flight services and costs/fees, J.D. Power says.
"While passengers often choose airlines based on price, convenient scheduling, or loyalty program membership, about one in five choose airlines based on specific things they like about the brand such as customer service, in-flight entertainment, or more comfortable seating," said Rick Garlick, J.D. Power's global travel and hospitality practice lead.
"Not surprisingly, when airlines focus on the hospitality or service aspects of their business, as opposed to simply providing transportation to get people from point A to point B, they create a much more committed, loyal customer base who will go out of their way to fly with that particular carrier."
JetBlue Airlines' TrueBlue program came in second place, earning 758 points and pushing Southwest Airlines' Rapid Rewards program (743 points) from second to third place. American's program came in fourth with 700 points, followed by United (697 points), Delta (675 points) and US Airways (670 points). (American, which owns US Airways, recently combined the two rewards programs.)
Member satisfaction is primarily driven by online reviews of an airline's loyalty and rewards program and the program's reputation, according to the report.
"A few frequent flier programs stand out from the rest," Garlick said. "These programs share the common quality of engaging passengers who may not spend as much money as the road warrior business traveler. Everyone wants to feel that rewards are obtainable, and these programs are structured to make even a leisure traveler feel the incentive for frequent travel is within reach."
The rewards report measures customer satisfaction with airline loyalty and rewards programs based on six factors (in order of importance): ease of redeeming points/miles; reward program terms; account maintenance/management; ease of earning points/miles; variety of benefits available; and customer service. Satisfaction is measured on a 1,000-point scale.
The 2015 North America Airline Satisfaction Study is based on responses from 11,354 passengers who flew on a major North American airline between March 2014 and March 2015. The 2015 Airline Loyalty/Rewards Program Satisfaction Report is based on responses from more than 3,073 airline loyalty and rewards program members and was fielded in March 2015.