As Southwest Airlines grapples with a massive cancellation roster blamed on weather, walkouts and slow-goes due to staff shortages, it is no surprise that customer satisfaction at airports is getting a thumbs down – at least according to a recent J.D. Power survey. The J.D. Power 2021 North America Airport Satisfaction Study released recently notes shortages on all fronts – from food supplies to beverage inventory to retail choices layered by a general nationwide struggle to keep crowded concessions going amid a persistent labor shortage.
Internationally, a global survey of flyers released last month by Inmarsat noted that the unpredictability of flying and the seemingly large variation in rules and regulations is hampering confidence towards air travel, even more than other factors. The potential of quarantine is the greatest worry for people (51%), more so than catching the virus at the airport or on the plane (43%).
Globally, however, satisfaction with airlines’ responses to the pandemic has grown to 72%, a 12% increase from last year. This is an important result for the industry, as the reputation of airlines is the key component to boosting confidence levels for passengers, according to the survey. In addition, more passengers said they will only travel with “trusted” airlines, a factor seen definitively in the Americas with an 8% uplift from 2020 to 32%. The research also reveals generational differences, as 28% of younger passengers (18-44 yrs) said they were more likely to fly only with “trusted airlines” compared to 20% of older passengers (45-65 yrs).
The survey, which captured responses from some 10,000 flyers worldwide, found 60% of passengers would be happy to fly again by the end of the year, compared to only 47% last year. This is a clear indication that while aviation is not out of the woods yet, there are enough reasons to feel optimistic about the future, said Inmarsat Aviation’s President Philip Balaam.
“There is no denying that the past 18 months has been a turbulent time for airlines and passengers alike,” he says. “However, the latest International Air Transport Association (IATA) figures show that demand for both international and domestic travel is gaining significant momentum. In order to maintain and even accelerate this growth, it’s essential to rebuild passenger confidence and ensure their evolving needs are met in a post COVID world.”
To boost confidence in travelers and to stay aloft with healthy crew ranks, several airlines, including Southwest, are having their employees get on board with required vaccination policies. Southwest pilot actions were blamed for massive flight cancellations at the Dallas-based carrier this week, although pilot union spokesmen stated emphatically that whatever the causes for the cancellations, they were not resultant from staff protests over the new vaccine requirements. United and American Airlines have also imposed vaccine mandates.
The Inmarsat survey also found widespread support for COVID passports, with 84% of passengers stating that implementing such documents would be a good idea. Digital health passports have also been shown to cause an uptick in passenger confidence.
When it comes to U.S. airports, however, where many passengers are getting stuck these days as airline networks manage a continual teetering between rising passenger loads, dwindling supplies and staffing uncertainties, a few airports seem to keep the flows in check amid swells of chaos.
The J.D. Power 2021 North America Airport Satisfaction Study found that Miami International Airport ranks highest in passenger satisfaction among mega airports. John F. Kennedy International Airport ranks second, and Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport ranks third. Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport ranks highest among large (rather than mega) airports with Tampa International Airport as a second and Raleigh-Durham International Airport coming in third.
The supply-chain confusion and staffing conundrums have resulted in the launching of some sub industries, such as the atyourgate.com app that allows passengers heading to or in the airport to pre-order meals from their phone and pick them up or have them delivered to their seat. The service is currently available at 17 U.S. airports and can help relieve some of the guessing when it comes to finding food to be enjoyed at the airport or taken onboard. The app also comes in handy for managing the down times that descend during flight delays.
According to Cirium, airline on-time performance statistics tallied last month show Delta, American and United rank in the top nine internationally for on-time arrivals (84% to 89%). The year’s crowning statistics for best and worst airlines according to delays, cancellations, customer service and lost luggage are still to be determined. But in the end, 2021 will go down in history as a year like none other except, perhaps, 2020.