It hasn't been a good month for news about U.S. airlines. However, despite that persistent drumbeat of negative headlines, airline service is the best it's been in years.
At least that's according to J.D. Power, which found soaring passenger-satisfaction levels in its annual customer-service survey of North American airlines for 2017.
“It’s impossible to think about airline customer satisfaction without replaying the recent images of a passenger being dragged from a seat, but our data shows that, as a whole, the airline industry has been making marked improvements in customer satisfaction across a variety of metrics, from ticket cost to flight crew,” Michael Taylor, travel practice lead at J.D. Power, said in a statement. “As recent events remind us, however, airlines have significant room for improvement.”
In the group's 2017 survey, passengers' happiness with service on U.S. and Canadian airlines continued to rise, hitting its highest mark ever since J.D. Power moved to its current survey format in 2006. The industry's satisfaction score climbed to an average of 756 on a 1,000-point scale -- a 30-point jump from the previous record high that was set just last year.
The improving overall scores continue a five-year trend in the J.D. Power survey. The gains for 2017 were seen across the board, rising in all of the customer-service factors rated in the survey.
Falling airfares, improved on-time performance and a decline in lost luggage were all cited for bolstering customer-service scores. Also improved in 2017, according to J.D. Power, were “historically low bump rates and high scores for flight crews.”
Those "historically low bump" rates come even though the topic has remained in the headlines for weeks following the United Express 3411 incident on April 9.
J.D. Power also found fliers did not appear to be especially unhappy with airline service workers.
"Despite recent news stories, issues arising from airline crews, staff, and 'attitude' are neither the most common problem reported, nor are problems with the crew the most impactful on satisfaction, according to study findings," Taylor added in a statement to USA TODAY's Today in the Sky blog.
Even United, suffering from weeks of bad press since that passenger-dragging incident that made global headlines, scored ratings that run counter to recent narratives.
"United Airlines achieves the greatest improvement in Flight Crew satisfaction, an increase of 37 points year over year," Taylor said.
J.D. Power's satisfaction scores are drawn from airlines' performances in seven categories (in order of importance to the survey), cost and fees, in-flight services, aircraft, boarding/deplaning/baggage, flight crew, check-in, and reservations.
The full methodology for the survey can be found at J.D. Power's website, though the group says the results are based on responses from a combination of 11,015 business and leisure passengers who flew on a major North American airline between March 2016 and March 2017. The study was fielded between April 2016 and March 2017.
The J.D. Power ratings come a month after another annual airline rating found that airline service improved slightly in its year-over-year ratings for 2017. That study -- the Airline Quality Rating (AQR) report that's a joint project of Wichita State and the Arizona campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University -- tabbed Alaska Airlines as the top U.S. carrier.
Alaska Airlines closed on its acquisition of Virgin America in December, a deal that makes Alaska the fifth-biggest U.S. airline and a dominant player on the West Coast. Virgin America was among several notable carriers not included in the J.D. Power survey. Spirit Airlines, Allegiant and Porter are among the others not included in the J.D. Power survey.