J.D. Power 2020 Airline Study: “Friendliness” Plays Important Role In Recovery

Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

Both of Canada's major carriers made the top 10 in J.D. Power's 2020 North America Airline Satisfaction Study, released today. This year’s study looked at satisfaction across two segments: long-haul and short-haul.

WestJet ranked fifth overall in the long-haul customer satisfaction index rating, while Air Canada was in eighth place. For short-haul services, WS again placed fifth while AC jumped up to seventh. However both airlines ranked below the segment average.  

Southwest Airlines ranked highest in customer satisfaction for both short-haul and long-haul flights.

The study was conducted from APR 2019 through MAR 2020, capturing both pre-pandemic and post-pandemic consumer insights.  

According to J.D. Power, North American airlines were headed into 2020 with some of the highest customer satisfaction scores ever recorded, which it says was due to heavy investment in newer aircraft, better in-flight services and improved customer service.  

Here are some of the key findings of the 2020 study:

  • Value is a key differentiator for highest-performing airlines: In the midst of the pandemic, many airlines have waived change and cancellation fees. These fees have a notable effect on customer perception of ticket value.

  • Improving staff scores will play an important role in recovery: Pax satisfaction scores related to courtesy/friendliness of crew and staff knowledge have been improving consistently during the past five years. As airline staff will play a key role in delivering passenger safety information and reassuring passengers of the steps the airline is taking to reduce exposure to COVID-19, airlines must strive to further improve these scores.

  • Getting basics right still matters: While the travel industry is fixated on COVID-19-related issues, it remains important to get the basic operational details right. Currently, the most common reasons passengers cite for selecting an airline are that it offers a direct flight (55%); the passenger had a good past experience with that airline (47%); and the passenger is a rewards program member (42%). The most commonly cited reason given for not selecting a preferred airline is price (40%).

  • Pax seek transparency/details on how airlines will protect them: Based on additional J.D. Power research conducted 17-19APR, leisure travellers list the following as the two most important actions that airlines and hotels can take to make them feel safer: informing travellers of specific cleaning/sanitization actions they are taking (38%) and providing daily updates on the state of the pandemic in the area they will be visiting (37%).


Many of the core values that drove standout pax experiences in the pre-pandemic environment will be even more important as the industry plots its recovery, says J.D. Power. Specifically, the industry will need to focus on restoring confidence, while continuing to improve on the operational side.

“Airline success in the post-COVID-19 era will hinge on a combination of building consumer confidence and operational flexibility with changing schedules and routes,” said Michael Taylor, travel intelligence lead at J.D. Power. “Airlines have a tremendous reputation for safety. That will be even more critical as passengers look to airlines for detailed and specific information about what’s being done to keep them safe.”

The North America Airline Satisfaction Study, now in its 16th year, measures passenger satisfaction with airline carriers in North America based on performance in eight factors: aircraft, baggage, boarding, check-in, cost and fees, flight crew, in-flight services, and reservation. 

The study measures pax satisfaction among both business and leisure travellers and is based on responses from 10,100 passengers. Passengers needed to have flown on a major North American airline within the past month.

2019 Study

Last year’s North America Airline Satisfaction Study looked at satisfaction among traditional carriers and LCCs. 

AC had ranked fourth in the traditional carrier satisfaction index rating (Alaska Airlines ranked first). For the LCC rankings, WS placed third behind JetBlue Airways and Southwest. 


Credit photo: J.D. Power study.

Anna Kroupina

Anna Kroupina Journalist

Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.

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