- - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Let’s face it. We all have to put our pants on one leg at a time. And we all have to fly at some time. The difference is that although our pants may squeeze us, they do not charge us.

In fact, it seems consumers are so tired of the squeeze and the lack of choice in airlines and services, they are willing to pay $4 more per ticket provided funds are dedicated to system improvements.

New survey results released recently by the U.S. Travel Association show that although travelers remain frustrated by ticket add-ons from which they derive little benefit, such as bag and change fees, six out of 10 travelers would welcome user fees dedicated to improving efficiency and choice. Four U.S. airlines now carry 85 percent of U.S. passenger traffic.

More than seven in 10 travelers feel that current air travel options are inadequate. Some 62 percent said they are “somewhat frustrated” or “very frustrated” with air travel generally. And more than half the travelers surveyed (58 percent) said they would be willing to pay up to $4 more per ticket to fund airport improvements projects that would enable airports to accommodate more airlines, modernize facilities or reduce delays in and around the airport.

The most frustrating costs associated with flying, according to respondents:
$200 airline fee for flight changes or cancellations
$50 airline fee for seat assignments
$25 airline fee for checked bags
$50 airline fee for priority boarding

The most frustrating overall aspects of flying, according to respondents:
Delays and cancellations; inability to accurately compare airfares because of some hidden fees (e.g., bags, seat assignments); security screening processes; and limited airline selection.

Meanwhile, the latest Airline Quality Rating (AQR) report, released this month as an annual study over the last quarter century, shows that airlines are, indeed, slipping when it comes to earning passengers’ favor.

The report, examining quality of experience for airline passengers and quality of behaviors for the airline companies servicing them, shows that U.S. airline performance for 2014 collectively declined in the study’s four core elements: on-time performance, involuntary denied boardings, mishandled baggage and customer complaints.

The weaker overall performance shows that the recent round of mergers means airlines still have work to do to compete for customer loyalty.

Virgin America claimed the top spot for the third consecutive year but other airlines did not fare so positively.

The rankings stacked according to key performance indicators, put Virgin America at the top, followed by Hawaiian, Delta, JetBlue, Alaska and Southwest (including AirTran). At the bottom sits Envoy/ American Eagle. On the lower end of the middle: American (with USAirways), Frontier and United (including Continental).

Denied boardings: Virgin America and Hawaiian are the industry leaders in avoiding denied boarding incidents with a rate of 0.09 and 0.12 per 10,000 passengers, respectively. ExpressJet and SkyWest had the highest involuntary denied boarding rate at 2.71 per 10,000 passengers for both airlines.

Baggage handling: Virgin America had the best baggage handling rate (0.95 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers) and Envoy/American Eagle had the worst baggage handling rate (9.02 mishandled bags per 1,000 passengers).
Consumer complaints: Alaska had the lowest consumer complaint rate (0.42 per 100,000 passengers).

Denver-based Frontier Airlines, on a course to become the country’s newest super-low-cost carrier, had the highest rate: 123 complaints filed in February — 14.4 complaints for every 100,000 passengers that boarded. Those numbers were the same in December and 8.6 in January. But that may come as no surprise to airline industry watchers. Frontier was purchased in 2013 by the same private investor group that turned Florida-based Spirit Airlines into the rock-bottom carrier it became with low fares initially before the onslaught of passenger fees piled on each ticket. These include fees for carry-on bags and seat assignments.

Low fares and lots of add-on fees also come with lousy on-time performances. Frontier’s sketchy on-time management rate is the second lowest in the industry. In February, Frontier arrived at its destination on time just over half (59 percent) of the time.

Lark Gould reports on travel and the travel industry from Los Angeles. She blogs on Larkslist and covers trends on Travel-Intel.

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