Travelers are actually more satisfied with (most) airlines in the US. Here's how carriers stack up

Key Points
  • A J.D. Power survey shows travelers are more satisfied with North American airlines.
  • United slipped in the rankings to last place.
  • Alaska Airlines scored highest among traditional airlines.
Airline passengers at Ronald Reagan National Airport (DCA) in Washington, D.C.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Airlines' social media mentions are usually full of travelers' frequent frustrations: a downgrade, a missed connection, a refund.

But air travelers are feeling more satisfied with airlines in North America, according to a survey released Wednesday by J.D. Power & Associates.

The survey found passengers' satisfaction with the region's airlines rose 6 points from a year earlier to 762 on a 1,000-point scale with the biggest improvements in satisfaction with aircraft, deplaning and baggage claim and the reservation system.

Airline seats and passengers get the squeeze

Alaska Airlines scored highest in the list of traditional carriers, followed by Delta Air Lines.

American slipped a bit in its score from a year ago and United fell to the bottom of the rankings from second-to-last place in 2017. Both had made strides in the past five years, said Michael Taylor, who heads the travel unit at J.D. Power.

Some pain points included in-flight services and the perception of costs and fees, Taylor said. Both airlines have been expanding restrictive, no-frills basic economy fares. In exchange for the lowest fare on the plane, basic economy tickets on these airlines' domestic routes don't include advance seat selection or the possibility of access to overhead bins.

J.D. Power wrapped up last year's survey just before a string of public relations disasters for United that started with the violent dragging of passenger David Dao off of a plane flying for the airline in April 2017. Several high-profile animal deaths and mix-ups followed.

"This survey was conducted during a challenging period for United, so the results are not surprising," said a United spokesperson. "In fact, we've already designed and implemented steps to empower our 90,000 employees to take better care of our customers."

The airline this year rolled out special training that aims to give staff working with customers like flight attendants and gate agents more power to solve problems themselves. It also seeks to ensure that they are compassionate toward travelers.

The J.D. Power survey was based on the responses of 11,508 passengers who flew on a major North American airline between March 2017 and March 2018.