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Bad service, not fares, driving airline passenger dissatisfaction, report says

Travelers are increasingly unhappy with airlines, primarily because of deteriorating customer service rather than higher fares or increased fees, a new survey reports.

The annual report on airline service by J.D. Power and Associates found that overall satisfaction with the airline industry hit its lowest level in three years. Among the eight major hub airlines, Fort Worth-based American Airlines ranked fifth. Alaska Airlines snared the top spot.

Among the four largest low-fare carriers, Southwest Airlines, based in Dallas, ranked second, behind JetBlue Airways.

Both American and Southwest saw their overall scores decline compared to 2007.

"Across the airline experience, from check-in, to the flight, to deplaning, passengers are being affected by the ramifications of carriers making staff cutbacks and have expressed that performance and attitudes of airline staff are suffering," said Sam Thanawalla, director of the global hospitality and travel practice at J.D. Power, in a news release.

The study concluded that customer satisfaction with airline employees -- gate agents, check-in staff, flight crews and others -- has diminished dramatically. The decrease in satisfaction with employees was twice the level of unhappiness with ticket prices.

The study surveyed passengers on seven performance measures, including cost and fees; flight crew; in-flight services; aircraft; boarding, deplaning and baggage; check-in and reservations.