Airlines want you to love them again. Good luck with that!

The airline industry wants to have it both ways: It wants to be profitable and be loved by its customers.

It nailed the first one, with a projected $19.2 billion in profits this year, thanks to dramatically lower fuel prices and a string of unpopular fare increases.

And the second one? Well, that’s a work in progress. In fact, the more successful the airline industry gets, the more customers seem to loathe it. American carriers top a recent list of most-hated airlines and airline complaints are at a 15-year high.

But that isn’t stopping them from trying. The domestic airline industry is spending more than $1 billion a month to improve its products and services.

  • On Valentine’s Day, Delta Air Lines passengers flying between New York’s John F. Kennedy airport and San Francisco or Los Angeles received complimentary mini bottles of Veuve du Vernay Rosé sparkling wine and a three-pack of Baked by Melissa bite-size cupcakes in the main cabin. “We love our customers,” said Allison Ausband, the airline’s executive in charge of customer service.
  • American Airlines earlier this month announced it would include snacks and movies in the price of its tickets, even in economy class. Customers traveling on flights departing prior to 9:45 a.m. will receive Biscoff cookies as part of their fare. On flights departing after 9:45 a.m., passengers will have a choice between cookies or pretzels, rotated on a seasonal basis. “Free” snacks were phased out after 9/11 in an aggressive cost-cutting effort.
  • Late last year, United Airlines announced that “free” snacks were back, featuring a morning “stroopwafel” – a Dutch, caramel-filled waffle that “pairs perfectly with coffee or tea” or packaged savory snacks, such as an Asian-style snack mix of rice crackers, sesame sticks and wasabi peas or a zesty-ranch mix of mini pretzel sticks, Cajun corn sticks and ranch soy nuts. It also introduced illycaffe’s signature scuro dark roast coffee at its airport club locations. Technically, none of these items are free, but they are now included in the price of your fare.

Airline critics, who are watching the industry report record earnings quarter after quarter, say this is nothing more than a good start. They note that the domestic airline industry has a lot of runway in front of it before it can reclaim the reputation it lost after deregulation in the 1970s.

But what about the customers?

Economy class passengers, accustomed to years of dramatically reduced services and amenities, are welcoming the changes. But in interviews, some also pointed out that it isn’t the “free” amenities that make a flight better. It’s something that costs the airline nothing.

Just ask Tim Pylant, an engineer from La Grange, Texas, who has flown on United several times this year. “The service improvement probably has to do with flight attendant attitudes,” he says. “They just seem happier and more helpful than the past. I can’t explain it but it does make the flight more pleasant.”

Listening to complaints

In fact many say listening to customers makes a big difference.

“Airlines are listening to user complaints,” says Jessica Coane, who works for a technology company in Nassau, NY. For example, United Airlines, the legacy airline with the lowest customer-service scores, has a new site dedicated to soliciting customer feedback. And it acts on the suggestions, though not as quickly as some customers might want it to.

All those complaints about shrinking seats and legroom appear to be falling on deaf ears. None of the major carriers are adding space. Even JetBlue Airways, which famously promised to bring “humanity” to air travel, recently upgraded its main cabin to squeeze more seats into the plane, upping cabin capacity from 150 passengers to 162. Each row will lose two inches of legroom, which is unfortunate, but still not as tight as the average economy cabin.

What’s next

Industry watchers expect airlines to continue adding more amenities and services this year, given the bright earnings outlook. That is likely to be good news for elite flyers. Airlines tend to lavish the best perks on their business and first-class passengers while tossing economy-class customers an occasional scrap, says Matt Wilson, the co-founder of a tour operator called Under30Experiences.

“I find that the low end-flights are getting worse and the high-end companies are just getting better,” he says.

While the domestic airline industry spent $12.1 billion in the first nine months of 2015 on product enhancements, and to make its customer love it more, the precise breakdown is not public knowledge. All of which seems to suggest that some passengers will love the improvements more than others.

Leo Locke falls into the “not lovin’ it” category. He’s the president of a Boston travel agency and a frequent flier, and he believes airlines are more worried about profits than passengers. On a recent flight, he asked a flight attendant for a glass of water to take his medication. She said she’d be happy to sell him a bottle of water for $3.

“Airlines are more interested in improving their bottom line,” he says. “Not the customer experience.”

Is it working?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend