The best and worst airlines of 2022 for customer service

A travel problem solver

What are the best airlines of the year for customer service? Ask passengers, and they’ll mention favorites like JetBlue and Southwest (despite that airline’s recent strike). And they will criticize legacy carriers like American and United and low-cost airlines that like to charge fees.

Travelers have been talking a lot lately. They complained about a record number of airline services last year. Last summer, consumer complaints against airlines were nearly 270% above pre-pandemic levels. We’ll have to wait until early 2023 for last year’s total, but it’s not looking good.

So which airlines performed best for their customers? Which one didn’t? What is the government doing about the state of airline customer service?

These are the best airlines for customer service

Customers say they like perennial favorites, including JetBlue, Southwest, Delta and Alaska. And in 2022, these carriers came again for passengers – to a point.

Alex Beene, a community coordinator in Nashville, Tennessee, recently flew to Dallas on Southwest Airlines. Weather and personnel problems caused delay after delay. He feared he would miss his appointment in Dallas and approached the gate agent about his concerns.

“From that point on, they did everything possible to speed up my journey,” he says. “They boarded me early so I could get a seat at the front of the plane. The flight attendant drew me a makeshift map showing me how quickly to get to ground transportation. “To my shock, Southwest even gave me a $200 check for a future flight.”

Beene says he’s a lifelong customer.

Inez Stanway says her vote for best airline goes to Delta. A recent trip from Atlanta to Detroit is noteworthy.

“The flight was smooth and on time,” says Stanway, who runs an art site in Atlanta. “The staff were attentive and polite and I had no problems. It was a very pleasant experience.”

Research supports these practices. Fordham University’s American Innovation Index ranked JetBlue as the top airline, followed by Southwest, Alaska and Delta. These airlines “go above and beyond” when it comes to customer service, says Lerzan Aksoy, interim dean of Fordham’s business school.

“Customers appreciate when airlines go above and beyond to help customers through superior service and flexibility,” he said.

Favorite airlines of 2022

I didn’t fly in the US last year, but I had plenty of opportunities to try foreign airlines.

Qatar Airways is one of my favorite flying experiences of 2022. I have flown from Frankfurt to Doha and from Doha to Cape Town in economy class on the Gulf carrier. Qatar’s cabin service was excellent and it gave me plenty of legroom on both flights. Also, he didn’t charge extra for my luggage – just like in the good old days.

Turkish Airlines also charges high prices. I flew with the national carrier from Cape Town to Istanbul in business class and then around Turkey in economy class. I especially liked the in-flight food, from the incredible Turkish coffee to the freshly baked simits (pretzels). Turkish hospitality is legendary.

SAS flew me last fall from London to Oslo and from Bergen to Split, Croatia. Although the airline was struggling financially, that didn’t stop it from providing first-class service. When people complain about the death of European carriers, they’re not talking about SAS.

These are the worst airlines for customer service

The worst airlines are also familiar. Passengers report negative experiences with some legacy carriers and low-cost airlines known for their fees.

Dennis Shirshikov remembers a recent American Airlines flight from Mexico City to New York with his wife and three young children. As they boarded, a crew member told him to check the stroller. Shirshikov, who runs a real estate investment firm in New York, said he turned down the stroller because it was a regulatory size and he needed it to carry his children. “They were very confrontational,” he says.

When we got to JFK, there was no stroller. Finally he found her among the lost and found her. It was bent and scuffed, but it still worked. His relationship with American Airlines was damaged beyond repair. He says he will run away from America after that.

But even airlines like United weren’t as bad as they used to be, at least when it came to customer service. The American Innovation Index found United to be the most improved airline over the past five years, increasing its score by 15 points on a 100-point scale. Customers like United because it’s easy to work with and has a good loyalty program.

It’s not perfect. “United has significant delays in processing refunds and cancellations,” says Molly Egan, construction manager at Denver-based hospitality designer.

Department of Transportation complaint data supports this list of least-favored carriers. American Airlines (3,186), United Airlines (2,391), Spirit Airlines (1,909) and Frontier Airlines (1,750) had the most complaints in the first half of 2022.

Government: Airline service may hit low in 2022

Ask the US government and you might come away thinking that airlines offer the worst service.

The Department of Transportation in November levied a record $7.25 million in fines against six airlines for failing to refund tickets for flights canceled or significantly altered during the pandemic. The government is also issuing four other aviation enforcement orders – fines against airlines for violating department rules or engaging in unfair and deceptive practices.

Airline regulators last year proposed a new rule that would make it easier to get refunds if a flight is canceled or significantly delayed. It will also allow passengers to receive non-expiring flight credits if they cancel flights for pandemic-related reasons, such as the government’s travel ban.

The Department for Transport has set up a new customer service dashboard that publishes data on how each airline handles delays or cancellations. For example, you can find out if your airline offers hotels, meal vouchers or ground transportation to the hotel when you need to stay overnight at the airport.

This year could be a year of reckoning for airlines as some of these regulations are adopted by regulators. And barring a miracle, Southwest probably won’t be on anyone’s favorite list in 2023 after the holiday meltdown. (But if anyone can reach passengers, it’s probably Southwest.)

But that’s not all. Congress will next consider the FAA Reauthorization Act, which funds the FAA. Traditionally, this is an opportunity for lawmakers to assess the industry’s performance with new legislation.

Given the summer’s spate of delays and cancellations and sky-high airfares, it’s unlikely the industry will continue to get away with this behavior.

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