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FLIERS NOT PLEASED

Airline industry ties for last place in customer satisfaction survey

Extra fees for checked luggage irritate travelers

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Delta Air Lines Inc. scored a 56 on a 100-point scale for customer satisfaction to place last among all airlines in the survey. The industry rated 65 on average, compared to 76.5 for all other industries.

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U.S. airlines fell to last place among 47 industries in a study of customer satisfaction, dragged down by consumers' "pervasive" discontent with service, baggage fees, and ticket prices.

The score of 65 on a 100-point scale compared with an average of 76.5 for all industries, according to the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index released Tuesday.

Airlines were tied at the bottom with newspapers, the worst performers in 2010.

"Fliers were vastly less satisfied overall with the experience," said David VanAmburg, managing director of the study. Extra charges to check luggage irritate travelers who already feel that fares are too high, he said.

The industry's tally fell 1.5 points from a year earlier as carriers extended their use of fees for checking luggage and other services. Airlines collected $5.69 billion in bag and reservation-change fees in 2010, 12 percent more than in 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

The index team surveyed about 1,750 recent airline passengers among approximately 9,000 consumers reached by email and telephone from January through March. Airlines logged their highest rating, 72, in 1994, the baseline year for the study.

The lowest score among major carriers was a 56 for Delta Air Lines Inc., the world's second-largest by traffic. The only worse result among more than 225 companies covered in the index was a 54 for energy delivery company Pepco Holdings Inc.

Passengers who paid for checked bags had an average customer satisfaction score of 58, 10 points lower than for travelers who didn't pay those fees. About 50 percent of consumers now pay these charges, the study found, helping contribute to "a very low score" for the industry.

The findings echo the results of a survey of 1,059 passengers conducted in March by online travel agent Travelocity.com, a unit of Sabre Holdings Corp. Travelocity found that 28 percent of fliers rated bag fees as the greatest travel annoyance and 27 percent said high airfares were worst.

"In a down economy, customers are focusing much more of their attention on price," Mr. VanAmburg said.

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