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Satisfaction with airline service drops again

Consumer satisfaction with U.S. airlines fell for a third straight year, according to a University of Michigan study released yesterday.

Consumer satisfaction with U.S. airlines fell for a third straight year, according to a University of Michigan study released yesterday.

Airlines collectively scored 62 on a 100-point scale in the University of Michigan's American Customer Satisfaction Index, down 1 point from 2007 and the worst among industries assessed.

Satisfaction across all businesses rose three-tenths of a point to 75.2, according to the study.

The survey found that customers were less satisfied with the nation's two largest airlines, American Airlines and United Airlines, than with the U.S. Postal Service and utility providers.

"Passenger satisfaction is dismal, and things probably won't get any better if airlines continue to charge more for less," Claes Fornell, the study's founder, said in a statement.

This year's rating for airlines was the lowest since 2001, even as travelers grew more satisfied with Southwest Airlines Co., already the top-ranked carrier.

Gripes about airlines included higher ticket prices due to rising fuel costs and additional fees for services such as premium seats, the report found.

The score is an added blow to airlines facing record fuel prices, slowing demand, and the prospect of the largest industrywide loss ever. JPMorgan Chase & Co. on Monday projected a combined 2008 operating loss of $7.2 billion for major U.S. carriers.

The price of jet fuel, the largest expense at many airlines, has climbed 84 percent in the last year, and the fuel traded at a record $3.97 a gallon yesterday.

The study measured consumer satisfaction during the first quarter of this year.

American, the world's largest airline, improved 2 points to 62 during the quarter, compared with the same quarter a year earlier. But that was before the 3,300 flight cancellations by the carrier in April, when it grounded its fleet of MD-80 jets for safety inspections.

Posting the biggest declines in satisfaction were US Airways Group Inc. and Continental Airlines Inc. Also sliding were United, the No. 2 carrier by traffic after American, and Northwest Airlines Corp.

Among other industries, utility providers scored 74, a 1-point improvement, as did the Postal Service, which advanced for a second consecutive year.

The University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, updates the survey each quarter. It reports on 43 industries, encompassing about 200 companies and government agencies, according to a statement.

Airline Rankings

Customer-service ratings for U.S. airlines. Index is based on a 100-point scale.

Rank / Airline   2007   2008

1. Southwest    76.2    79.0

2. Continental   69.2   62.0

2. American   60.0   62.0

3. Delta    59.0    60.0

4. Northwest    61.5    57.0

5. United    56.0    56.0

6. US Airways   61.0    54.0

SOURCE: University of Michigan American Customer Satisfaction Index