FRIDAY FRUMP: No love lost between airlines and their customers

A new survey shows what many frequent air travelers have already expressed in articles, op-ed pieces and conversations at airport bars: Airline passengers feel neither valued by, nor loyal to, U.S. airlines.

This unsurprising finding was the result of the Airlines Brand Perception Study conducted by global brand strategy and market growth firm Brandigo.

"After all the amateur videos that have recently surfaced, beginning with the United passenger being pulled unwillingly from his seat on an overbooked flight, airlines need to be on notice that loyalty toward their brands are at risk and consumers don't have a positive viewpoint of the industry in general," Matt Bowen, president of Brandigo/North America, said.

For the airlines, however, there is a silver lining: Current attitudes also represent,”[A] huge opportunity to win passenger's brand loyalty moving forward," he added.

This survey revealed a number of findings, many of which reflected directly on United Airlines (NYSE:UAL):
  • 56.7 percent of all respondents' perception of United Airlines changed since the incident 
    • Before the incident: 81.7 percent were at least neutral or had some level of positivity towards the brand 
    • 67.3 percent of respondents' current perception of United Airlines is at least somewhat negative
  • Among those who fly most frequently (over seven times per year) 
    • Before the incident: 75 percent were at least neutral or had some level of positivity towards the brand 
    • Current perception for 67.9 percent of the most frequent travelers feel United Airlines is at least somewhat negative 
  • 53.7 percent are less willing to purchase a ticket from United Airlines 
  • "Disgust" is the feeling that best describes how 41 percent of respondents were feeling when they first learned of the United incident 
  • 36.2 percent, if given a choice of airlines, would be wiling to pay more to purchase a ticket on a competing airline to avoid flying United Airlines. 
  • 42.5 percent feel more on edge or on guard when flying following a media incident like the recent United Airlines incident. 

AA flight attendant confronts passenger
United isn’t the only airline to have its warts displayed publicly in the last several months.

A flight attendant on American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) Flight 591 from San Francisco International (SFO) to Dallas-Ft. Worth (DFW) on April 21 challenged a passenger to hit him after the passenger tried to intervene on behalf of another passenger.

Delta Air Lines (NYSE:DAL) ejected a family from a flight from Maui (OGG) when they refused to give up the seat their infant child was occupying, although the family had not purchased a ticket in the infant’s name.

Given that recent spate of negative publicity, it is hardly surprising that other findings apply more broadly to the entire U.S. airline industry:
  • An overwhelming 73.5 percent feel that airlines view them as a ticket sale or piece of revenue as opposed to 12 percent who feel like airlines view them as a valuable customer and only 4.6 percent who feel like airlines view them as a human being 
  • 59.3 percent of respondents do not feel loyal to any airline 
Study participants were given the opportunity to provide open-ended comments. What follows is a small sampling:
  • "They only care about the money." 
  • "Airlines have lost all respect for their customer's dignity and importance." 
  • "It reinforced my perception that in general the airlines are indifferent to customer service." 
  • "ALL airlines treat passengers like crap! It's all about how much money they can gouge us for!" 
  • "They overbook their flights so they seem to be more interested in money than passengers." 
  • "The CEO has completely failed to provide leadership or address these incidents." 
  • "Totally inconsiderate and no sense whatsoever of customer service." 
  • "Poor leadership and customer service people with lack of training to problem solve and take care of customers." 
"Airlines are failing when it comes to building loyalty with their consumers as even the frequent flyer programs are flawed and harder to be a part of now," said Chris Langathianos, Brandigo’s vice president of brand strategy, said. "As a result, business travelers, who typically are members of these programs, are less valued, and that leaves leisure travelers who are frankly not valued at all. Exceptional customer service and creative unique travel experiences for customers should be priority number one throughout the airline industry right now."

The nationwide survey was conducted between May 10 and 12 and surveyed a cross-section of 410 adults aged 18 and over who travel by air for business or pleasure. Survey results reflect a margin of error of ± 5.2 percent.

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