PRINCETON, NJ -- The year 2007 has by some accounts been a poor year for air travelers, with reports of travelers trapped inside airplanes waiting on the tarmac for several hours, declining on-time performance, and overcrowded flights. Nevertheless, the typical American air traveler is satisfied with the job the major airlines are doing. There has been little change in Americans' airline satisfaction in the last seven years, both in their overall views and with several specific aspects of flying. Air travelers' biggest complaint seems to be with the comfort of airline seating.
According to Gallup's Dec. 6-9 poll, 43% of Americans report having taken a trip by airplane in the past year. The average American flew 1.7 round trips, and the average air traveler took 4 trips. Those figures have been fairly consistent since Gallup first began asking about air travel habits in 1999 -- usually between 40% and 50% of Americans report traveling by air each year, with an average of just under 2 trips per American and about 4 per air traveler.
Seventy-two percent of those who have flown in the past year say they are "satisfied with the job the nation's major airlines are doing." In 1999 and 2000 Gallup surveys, 65% and 69% of air travelers, respectively, were satisfied.
Those who have flown more frequently -- three or more times in the past 12 months -- are neither more nor less likely to be satisfied than less frequent air travelers -- 72% vs. 73%, respectively.
Gallup also asked air travelers to rate each of nine different aspects of the flying experience. Of these, air travelers are most satisfied with the courtesy of flight attendants (92%) and the courtesy of check-in and gate agents (88%). They are least satisfied with the comfort of the seats on the airplanes (47%).
A majority is satisfied with the remaining six aspects of flying, with higher reported satisfaction for airline schedules (79%), the speed and reliability of luggage systems (75%), the airlines' on-time performance (69%), and the procedures for going through security checkpoints (69%). Fewer than two in three report satisfaction with ticket prices (65%) and the airlines' efforts to deal with problems caused by flight delays and cancellations (56%).
Since 2000, when most of these items were last tested, there has been little or no change in satisfaction with the courtesy of flight attendants or gate agents, the airlines' on-time performance, airline schedules, and luggage systems.
American air travelers are now more likely to report satisfaction with the prices they pay for tickets than they were in 2000 (59%) and in particular 1999 (45%). This could be due to an increasing number of no-frills, discount airlines, which offer cheap airfares but can also serve to drive down the prices of more traditional airlines' flights on competing routes.
For the most part, frequent air travelers do not differ greatly from infrequent travelers in their satisfaction with the various aspects of flying. There are a few differences, however, with these most often occurring in areas in which frustrations might accumulate over a number of air trips, such as with the luggage systems, security procedures, comfort of seating, and airline efforts to deal with delays and cancellations. But a majority of frequent air travelers are satisfied with all these aspects aside from seating comfort.
The data suggest that for the most part, American air travelers have had positive experiences with the airlines, are forgiving when they haven't, or have low expectations about air travel. The horror stories of being stuck on an airplane for hours without food, drink, or rest-room access get a lot of attention and give the air travel industry a black eye, but affect a relatively small proportion of air travelers. Those who have avoided such complications may feel fortunate by comparison and thus might be more likely to be satisfied with their own travel experiences.
Even with the traveling public largely content with its flying experiences, there is certainly room for improvement on the airlines' part, specifically in terms of passenger comfort and efforts to deal with problems caused by delays or cancellations.
These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,004 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Dec. 6-9, 2007. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
For results based on the sample of 473 air travelers, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.
For results based on the sample of 231 frequent air travelers (those who have taken three or more trips in the past 12 months), the maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points.