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Despite bad headlines, airline satisfaction hits record high

Passengers wait in line at Chicago O'Hare Airport.
Getty Images
Passengers wait in line at Chicago O'Hare Airport.

After a string of incidents and eye opening videos that have prompted many to rip the way travelers are treated on airlines, a new study may have you scratching your head.

J.D. Power's annual survey of travelers finds airline satisfaction at a record high. This year's report is based on interviews with more than 11,000 travelers who were asked, "How was your last flight?"

"It's impossible to think about airline customer satisfaction without replaying the recent images of a passenger being dragged from a seat, but our data shows that, as a whole, the airline industry has been making marked improvements in customer satisfaction across a variety of metrics, from ticket cost to flight crew," said Michael Taylor, travel practice lead at J.D. Power.

In fact, it's the continued drop in ticket prices, down 8.5 percent in the last year, that have prompted travelers to feel better about taking a flight. At the same time airlines are landing more flights on time while mishandling fewer checked bags.

"Overall, there are a lot things going right for travelers when it comes to flying," said Taylor.

Perhaps, but several high profile and shocking incidents in the last month has many bashing the airlines for having a culture of not caring about customers.

It has even prompted a hearing on Capitol Hill where airline executives were told to clean up their act and start improving customer service.

Ironically, this new survey by J.D. Power echoes the findings of other third party studies which have found the airline industry enjoying record success. Last Month the annual Airline Quality Rating said U.S. carriers are doing better than ever.

"Without a doubt 2016 was a very good year for the airlines," said Dean Headley, associate professor at Wichita State University, one of the authors of the annual report.

While it is not hard to find someone who had a bad flight or a run in with a flight attendant or gate agent, most travelers say getting on a plane is not so bad now.

"It's better than it used to be," said James Kimble as he prepared to fly out of Denver. "There are times where you can be a little unhappy about the service, but it's not bad overall."

The airline industry may be doing better, but it still has a long ways to catch up with other industries according to J.D. Power. The latest customer satisfaction score puts the industry well behind the hotel and rental car industries.

"The airlines are still in the bottom of the industries we survey,"said Taylor.

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