Consumers like the IRS better than they like Tempe-based US Airways these days. That’s according to a national study of customer likes and dislikes scheduled to be released today by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Satisfaction with hotels has slipped 5 percent in the last decade, and airline likability has tanked nearly 13 percent overall, 15 percent for the hometown carrier, and as much as 23 percent for bottom-of-theheap Delta and United.
It’s enough for the University of Michigan researchers to label the U.S. travel industry as “troubled.”
The university has been compiling the American Customer Satisfaction Index since 1994, studying everything from government services to restaurants from a consumer’s point of view.
The Internal Revenue Service, though not a fave, rated a 65 out of a possible 100 points. US Airways rated a 61, even below the airline industry average of 63 this year. Only Southwest, Continental and the “all others” airline category that lumps together the smaller carriers, fared well with consumers.
And satisfaction with airlines has been declining almost since the index was started in 1994, said David VanAmburg, director of the study.
“Hotels are doing much better, although we saw a downturn this year,” VanAmburg said. “But the airlines we can truly say have been troubled. We study about four dozen major industries, and this has traditionally been among the least satisfying of all industries. And it’s not a recent plunge.”
Prices aren’t turning off air passengers, VanAmburg said, but abused bags and bumping are making them angry.
“It isn’t difficult to find good fares,” he said. “It’s the qual- ity of service across the board — the lines, the food, if there is any, on board, on-time arrivals, lost luggage and good old-fashioned customer service.”
Only one of the nearly 50 industries studied fared worse than airlines this year, VanAmburg said. That’s the cable and satellite TV industry, which barely squeezed out an average 62 satisfaction rating.
Airlines and pay TV services have some characteristics in common, VanAmburg said, because people won’t stop using them even though they are unhappy. And that doesn’t give the companies much incentive to get better, he said.
There are some stars pulling up the curve.
Southwest Airlines, which makes people line up for seats and serves only nuts and pretzels, scored the highest among the airlines with a 76 rating.
That’s because Southwest “matches customer expectations and demands,” he said. And Southwest scores high getting passengers to their destinations on time.
Robert Brinton, executive director of the Mesa Convention & Visitors Bureau, agreed people won’t stop flying just because they are unhappy with the airlines.
He recently boarded a flight in Charlotte, N.C., that only arrives as scheduled 50 percent of the time. But Brinton said it was his only option without resorting to a round-about route home.
He thinks the 2007 study, which tapped consumers between January and March, a period plagued with weather problems, magnified the dissatisfaction ratings this year.
“Whether you understand that weather is an act of God or the airline, you’re unhappy if you’re delayed,” he said. But Brinton said if customers are significantly dissatisfied with airlines and maybe a little less happy with hotels, it hasn’t hurt the local tourism industry.
“Just look at our excellent first quarter,” he said. “People may not have had as enjoyable time getting here, and they may have paid more for airlines and hotel rooms, but they still came.”