Four Major Airlines Do Well in 2016 BTN Travel Survey

The results of Business Travel News’ (BTN) 2016 Airline Survey are out, and the nation’s four major airlines have cause to celebrate, as satisfaction levels among corporate travel clients rose nearly across the board.

Here’s how the big four airlines ranked on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) in various categories, according to

Distribution – Providing comprehensive published and private content through preferred booking channels.

1. Delta – 4.33

2. American – 3.9

3. United – 3.8

4. Southwest – 3.2

Complaint resolution – Responding quickly and effectively to buyers and travelers.

1. Delta – 4.45

2. Southwest – 3.54

3. United – 3.46

4. American – 3.41

Communication with buyers – Informing buyers of changes in airline management, products, programs, data, reporting, sales and service.

1. Delta – 4.45

2. American – 3.7

3. United – 3.67

4. Southwest – 3.45

Account managers and sales reps – Participating in productive and frequent meetings and holding the power to negotiate agreements, offer options, and make price and service decisions.

1. Delta – 4.43

2. American – 3.51

3. United – 3.51

4. Southwest – 3.31

Customer service for travelers – Timeliness, reliability, cleanliness, support and communication.

1. Delta – 4.43

2. Southwest – 3.78

3. American – 3.51

4. United – 3.46

Networks, partnerships and frequencies – Service to the destinations corporations need to reach.

1. Delta – 4.39

2. United – 3.92

3. American – 3.91

4. Southwest – 3.49

Value – Worth of service levels relative to fares, fees and other services.

1. Delta – 4.04

2. Southwest – 3.96

3. American – 3.56

4. United – 3.34

Analysis, by airline

Despite concerns following years of airline consolidations, the BTN study results show that competition remains strong among the largest carriers. A FINRA representative said that post-consolidation, she’s seen airlines work harder to set themselves apart from one another to earn corporate customer loyalty.

At the same time, U.S. carriers continue to post healthy profits in 2016, which they are investing back into their own products and services.

All four U.S. carriers — American, Delta, Southwest and United — that had enough corporate use to be included in the survey, improved their overall scores. More impressively, every airline improved its scores in all 10 categories with only one exception: United Airlines dropped just four-hundredths of a point on a five-point scale in buyers’ rating of its distribution channels.

Delta lost only a slight edge in its premium over the other three carriers at 4.3 — its total score was 0.77 points above its closest competitor, compared with a 0.9-point difference last year.

Rankings among the other three airlines were a much closer race. American Airlines overall score improved the most from last year, with the airline rising up to second place, pushing both United Airlines and Southwest Airlines down one spot in the rankings.

Delta improves operational performance

Delta Air Lines improved its operational performance for the second year in a row, with Delta’s highest scores in client communications and complaint/problem resolution.

Corporate survey respondents cited the products and services Delta has developed for corporate travel clients, including its Corporate Priority program, which offers benefits and protections to corporate travelers regardless of frequent-flyer status.

Buyers also singled out the Delta Edge reporting program, which expanded to include meetings spend this year. In meetings pricing, Delta beat its competitors by more than a full point in BTN’s survey, the biggest victory margin of any individual category.

American Airlines

American Airlines increased its overall score more than the competition by 0.26 points. Its most significant improvements were related to negotiations: transient pricing, meetings travel pricing and services and amenities.

Last year, American received fewer than 3 out of 5 points in each of those categories. In 2016, all increased above that mark, and American moved from last to second or third in each.

United’s turnaround

It’s a new day at United Airlines, and many give more than a little credit to new president and CEO Oscar Munoz. While United slipped a place in rankings, it made significant gains in complaint resolution, communication with buyers and customer service for travelers.

One change that boosted customer service scores was a new escalation desk within the sales support organization, reducing a backlog of problems like baggage issues and refunds. Additionally, United has made sales support services more efficient by reducing demand for them, including giving travel agents more leeway in rebooking travelers after schedule changes or irregular operations.

Southwest’s value

While Southwest trailed its competitors in total score, it also was the only carrier to come within firing range of Delta in any individual category; in overall price and value, it scored only eight-hundredths of a point below Delta.

Southwest has differentiated itself by refusing to charge bag fees — the only major U.S. carrier not to do so — nor change fees. In the past few months, it also allowed A-List and A-List Preferred status members who arrive early to go on standby for earlier flights without paying the fare differentials.

Besides the price-value relationship, Southwest scored highest in communications with buyers and complaint/problem resolution. One reason is that Southwest gave account managers more autonomy to take care of problems when they arise.


New York Airports Lead Nation in Delays, New Study

There are many benefits to living in the New York Tri-State area, but efficient airports aren’t one of them. Once again, the Tri-State area’s three major airports: LaGuardia, Newark Liberty International, and JFK International lead the nation in delays, according to a new study by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Performance data from 2016 of the nation’s 29 largest airports was analyzed by the advocacy group Global Gateway Alliance to determine what airports had the highest percentage of delays in arriving flights and departing flights.

The results showed that all three regional airports ranked among the worst for delays in both categories. LaGuardia Airport had the highest percentage of delays in arriving flights and Newark Airport had the highest in delays specifically for departing trips.

Salt Lake City travelers on time

On the flip side, Salt Lake City International Airport boasts both the lowest percentage of arrival and departure delays in 2016 — with 12.8 percent of flights arriving late and 12.5 percent of flights departing late. By comparison, 28.1 percent of LaGuardia’s flights didn’t arrive on time and 24.4 percent of Newark’s flights failed to depart on time.

Why the delays?

The Port Authority said that Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark are in one of the busiest and most complex airspaces in the world, and that variables such as poor weather can cause delays that compound quickly. In 2016, more than 310,200 flights arrived at New York’s three regional airports according to Bureau of Transportation Statistics data.

To this point, air traffic volume accounted for nearly a quarter of all “airspace delays”—defined as delays that can be remedied by airspace improvements — impacting more than 7,800 flights into the regional airports last year.

“Common weather conditions, such as rain and fog, are the cause of too many delays at New York area airports, highlighting the congestion in our airspace and the need for the FAA to finally bring air traffic technology into the 21st century,” a representative of the Global Gateway Alliance said last year.

And what to do

Not everyone agrees with the speed in which NextGen is being rolled out in NY airports. A Global Gateway Alliance has called for the Federal Aviation Administration to work with the Port Authority on extending runways and fully replacing radar with satellite air traffic control technology, known as NextGen.

The FAA said in a statement that they “have made a significant commitment to NextGen procedures and technologies at airports in the New York metropolitan area. The complexity of New York airspace is precisely why the FAA has chosen to invest in so many improvements that increase efficiency and safety in New York and will have ripple effects around the nation.”

The FAA argues that it’s been making strides in New York with NextGen, including a successful effort to swap out voice communications between pilots and controllers for a more efficient text messaging system at Newark, LaGuardia and Kennedy airports.

Playing devil’s advocate, a Global Gateway Alliance representative stated, “NextGen really works when you have all the reforms in place. We’ve made some progress, but it’s complicated unless you transfer the whole system properly. NextGen tends to be put on the backburner in New York. The FAA tends to prioritize rolling out programs in smaller, less complex regions.”

The Global Gateway Alliance also stated, “While the terminal redevelopment projects are important, these dollars won’t be enough unless we address the delay problem too … Put simply, our airports will simply be nicer places to get stuck in.”

Source: U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics