What do airline passengers really want — besides a good fare?

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By Christopher Elliott

What’s the first thing you look for in an airline ticket?

If you said, “a low price,” you’re absolutely right. In a survey of air travelers conducted last week, 77 percent said they consider the fare first.

But airlines have used that answer to justify cutting customer service and “unbundling” prices — removing everything but a base fare — without asking the simple question: What else do you want?

Reader’s choice

So we decided to dig a little deeper. In a survey of more than 800 readers of this site and Consumer Traveler, we continued the conversation. Here are the results.

We asked you to name up to three important elements of a ticket, so the percentages don’t add up to 100:

Schedule – 48 percent

Non-stop vs. connecting flight – 47 percent

Luggage charges and other fees – 36 percent

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Frequent flier benefits – 21 percent

Extra legroom – 20 percent

Airports served (which area airport is selected) – 19 percent

Reputation of airline service – 15 percent

Business class availability – 6 percent

The survey also allowed readers to write in responses. Among the most popular answers:

An all-inclusive airfare.

To be treated like a customer.

Flexibility to change without fees.

More overhead bin space.

Enough seat width.

Beyond bargains

Follow-up conversations with the survey respondents suggest they require more than a cheap ticket price.

“I look for a fair price,” says Jim Daniel, a business traveler from Modesto, Calif. Beyond that, he has a tick-list that includes service, space and schedule. And when an airline can’t deliver — which increasingly, it can’t — he decides to drive instead of fly. (Related: Help! The cost of my airline ticket doubled and now I can’t get a refund.)

Other air travelers say it’s not a matter of what they look for, but what they try to avoid. Specifically, extra fees, such as checking a first bag or to change a ticket. (Here’s our guide to booking an airline ticket.)

“It’s ridiculous,” says one respondent, who is a frequent air traveler. “And I vote with my wallet. When I travel on my own dime, I use JetBlue and Southwest.”

Either way, passenger say they feel as if airlines can’t or won’t listen to them.

“Airlines do know what passengers want,” says one passenger. “They just don’t care. As long as they have people coming back in earnest, the shenanigans and schemes will continue.”

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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