The survey notes that expectations play a role. Many customers don't expect much from discount carriers, so the absence of some amenities isn't a big issue. However, for "full fare" carriers, the nickel and diming for benefits that used to be included is seen as a problem.
All five major discount carriers improved their scores, which measure customer satisfaction in seven areas, including cost and fees, in-flight services, boarding, flight crew and aircraft. JetBlue Airways Corp. took top honors for the seventh consecutive year, raising its score to 776 on a 1,000-point scale, up from 773 in 2011, J.D. Power said.
Southwest Airlines Co. was second, with a score of 770, up one point from 2011. Canadian budget carrier WestJet Airlines Ltd. followed with a score of 733, an improvement of four points. Southwest's AirTran Airways unit jumped eight points to 698, and Republic Airways Holdings Inc.'s Frontier Airlines subsidiary improved by six points to 694.
The traditional network carriers didn't do as well even though airlines generally notched their best operational performance last year in at least two decades. Six of the seven network-airline scores dipped in the latest poll. The exception was Delta Air Lines Inc., which boosted its rating to 659 from 650, raising it to third-best in the group. Alaska Air Group Inc., winner for the fifth consecutive year, saw its rating decline by two points to 678, and Air Canada's score dipped by one point to 677.
Continental Airlines and United Airlines, which merged in late 2010, were measured separately. Continental's 2012 score retreated to 649 from 661 a year ago, according to J.D. Power. United's rating declined to 625 from 640, and US Airways Group Inc., which came in last, slipped to 614 from 625. AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, which filed for bankruptcy-court protection late last year, ranked fifth of the seven, and its score fell to 647 from 656 in 2011.