United Continental Holdings Inc (UAL), Southwest Airlines Co. (LUV): Two Airlines Americans Hate the Most, and One They Still Love

Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV): still America’s favorite
Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV) once again had the lowest complaint rate in the airline industry last year, at 0.25 complaints per 100,000 passengers. Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV)’s complaint rate was more than 80% below the industry average, and 50% below second-place finisher Alaska Air Group, Inc. (NYSE:ALK). The high level of customer satisfaction highlights the value of Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV)’s generally cheerful staff, because Southwest’s performance on the more objective criteria in the AQR survey was not particularly impressive.

For example, Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV) was near the industry average for denied boardings, mishandled bags, and on-time performance.Furthermore, these averages were dragged down by United’s poor performance; in some cases, United was the only major carrier that performed worse than Southwest Airlines Co. (NYSE:LUV). As a result, Southwest only ranked No. 8 out of 14 in the AQR, behind most major competitors. Despite these problems, Southwest’s flight attendants, customer service agents, and other staff were able to keep people happy. Southwest customers experienced more problems than other airline passengers (objectively speaking), but were much less likely to lodge official complaints with the DOT. The friendly and helpful staff seem to be critical to Southwest’s success.

Southwest’s performance shows the value of a cheerful attitude in customer service, which can keep passengers satisfied in spite of technical problems. By contrast, people hate flying on United and American, because they do not find the staff helpful when problems arise. This was a particularly big problem for United last year, because there were a lot of problems. If American and US Airways hit merger turbulence in the next few years, they could be rivaling United for the bottom spot in the AQR survey very soon.

The article The 2 Airlines Americans Hate the Most, and the 1 They Still Love originally appeared on Fool.com.

Motley Fool contributor Adam Levine-Weinberg is short shares of United Continental Holdings and is long Sep 2013 $33 Puts on United Continental Holdings. The Motley Fool recommends Southwest Airlines.

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