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Consumer Reports rates airlines and JetBlue and Widwest topped surveys

Posted Thursday, June 21, 2007

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US Airways and America West Airlines rated among the lowest; Survey finds smaller and newer airlines treated customers better

Yonkers, NY — Two smaller and newer airlines — JetBlue Airways and Midwest Airlines — topped Consumer Reports’ latest reader survey ratings of 18 airlines. US Airways and America West Airlines, which recently merged, were among the lowest scoring airlines in the survey. The results appear in the “Best Airlines for Today’s Busy Skies” article, in the July issue of Consumer Reports.

The survey also found that smaller and newer airlines often treated customers better. Several of the top-rated carriers including JetBlue, Midwest Airlines, and Southwest Airlines have made a focus on the consumer an integral part of their business strategy.

However, two exceptions to that generalization are AirTran Airways and ATA Airlines, which delivered only average and below-average satisfaction rates, respectively. And Continental Airlines, in business since 1934, rated higher than most major carriers.

Some 23,000 Consumer Reports readers reported on their experiences on a total of 31,455 U.S. domestic flights in a survey conducted in early February by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. The survey questions covered check-in ease, seating comfort, on-time performance, and in-flight service. Travelers also assessed independent ticket-booking sites such as Expedia.com, and reported little difference among the sites.

CR researchers conducted a smaller, follow-up survey in April, soon after the highly publicized, weather-related blunders of JetBlue in mid-February and USAirways in March, which left thousands of their passengers stranded and fuming.

CR found that JetBlue’s blues had little effect on the airline’s overall levels of satisfaction; it remained among the top–rated carriers in CR’s second survey. But US Airways, which was already at the bottom of CR’s ratings, fell another 10 points in the follow-up survey.

“Some of the smaller, newer airlines seem to be giving the big ones a run for their money with easier check-in, roomier seating, more attentive cabin service, and better on-time performance,” said Greg Daugherty, Executive Editor, Consumer Reports.

 

Tips for a pleasant flight at a good price


Based on the results of the survey, CR has come up with tips to increase consumers’ odds of having a happy — or at least tolerable — flying experience at a good price.
  • If JetBlue, Southwest, Frontier, or Hawaiian flies your route, look no further. All four of those airlines provided a superior experience, according to CR readers, at a price that’s often lower than their competitors.
  • Consider secondary airfields instead of booking travel to the familiar big-name airport. These include Burbank rather than Los Angeles International, or Midway rather than Chicago’s O’Hare. They can have faster check-ins, shorter walks to the gate, and fewer baggage-claim problems.
  • Try to nail down your seat assignment when you make your reservation. At some online booking sites, you can even see which available rows offer the most leg room.
  • For a more spacious airplane seat, ask about width and pitch. Coach seat width on U.S. airliners varies from about 16 cramped inches to a relatively roomy 21. Pitch refers to the distance from your seat to the same spot on the one in front of you or behind you. A pitch of 36 inches is generous by today’s standards, while 30 inches is likely to feel a bit snug.
  • The best way to get a ticket at a decent price is to use the Internet. Some 73 percent of readers reported they bought their tickets online. However, you might have to visit more than one Web site, because each has its limitations. Some airline sites — including those of American Airlines, Continental, and USAirways — show initial price quotes that they explain, don’t include the extra fees and taxes.
  • Buy Direct. Travelers can save the per-ticket online transaction fees charged by Expedia ($5), Orbitz ($5-$12), and Travelocity ($4-$10) by buying from the airline at its own site.
  • Opt for E-ticketing. Buy electronic tickets because airlines often tack on a $10 to $20 fee for their printed ones.
The full report is available in the July 2007 issue of Consumer Reports, which is available wherever magazines are sold. Portions of the story are available for free online at www.ConsumerReports.org.
 
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Consumer Reports rates airlines and JetBlue and Widwest topped surveys
Two smaller and newer airlines — JetBlue Airways and Midwest Airlines — topped Consumer Reports’ latest reader survey ratings of 18 airlines.