Fight or Flight: Which Airline Provides the Best Customer Experience?

With summer fast approaching, many people are searching for their next holiday. Some of the world’s biggest airlines have hit the headlines recently for customer service blunders or full on scandal (we’re looking at you, United…).

We know that the airline that you choose can have a massive impact on your enjoyment of your holiday. A luxurious trip to the South of France can be marred by a rude flight attendant or the realisation upon landing that your bag has ended up on the other side of the world. Customer experience matters, as ultimately the emotions you feel about all aspects of your holiday, including the airline, influence your opinion. Brands need to respond in a way that aligns with the actual customer experience, otherwise things can go from bad to worse.

We analysed over 15,000 mentions of 5 leading airlines using our customer experience analytics tool Emotics. The analysis provides us with an insight into who provides the best customer experience. The data is assessed across 8 emotion indexes to understand how customers feel about the brands, and the themes that are driving these emotions. 

customer experience

The results show that Virgin Atlantic has come out on top with customers talking much more positively about the brand than the other 4. Lufthansa places second, whilst American Airlines and United Airlines finish joint third. Delta places bottom of our list which isn’t surprising due to hitting the headlines this week for another “overbooking” scandal.
So let’s look at the insights from the analysis.

virgin atlantic

Virgin Atlantic placed top of our analysis and therefore provides the best customer experience according to their customers online. Branson’s airline has an Adorescore of 43, ranking the highest on the Trust and Joy Index. Mentions of “Great Flight” and “Thanks” to cabin crew drove high joy.

Virgin’s use of Influencer Marketing has benefited the online customer experience, with mentions of influencers such as Evan Edinger and Niomi Smart leading to high levels of trust.

Influencers such as these Youtubers have massive followings of fans who trust them. Gaining their approval and reaching their audience in exchange for a free flight benefits the brand massively. The impact is proven by this analysis.

Lufthansa placed second in our analysis with an Adorescore of 35, along with high levels of trust driven by positive inflight experiences. Mentions of good in-flight wifi and the new airbus interiors drive high trust towards the brand online.

Positive in-flight experiences such as plane aesthetics, comfort and services such as wifi or entertainment are a great way to improve in-flight customer experience and thus promote return customers.

American Airlines tied with United Airlines with an Adorescore of 16. High levels of disgust were driven by customers complaining about the airline’s recent announcement that legroom will be cut to make room for extra seats on their aircrafts. American Airlines faced a video scandal where a AA flight attendant was recorded challenging a passenger to a fight after a mother and baby were left crying after allegedly being hurt by an attendant removing a pram from the plane.

American Airlines dealt with the scandal by apologising and suspending the flight attendant involved. Many praised AA for dealing with the scandal much better than United did by apologising and not blaming the customer.

United Airlines also received an Adorescore of 16 with high levels of disgust mostly driven by the recent overbooking scandal and passengers complaining about delayed flights.

Last month United hit the headlines when a video went viral showing Dr David Dao being forcibly removed from an overbooked flight. The incident resulted in the passenger being injured and bleeding. The scandal led to many threatening to boycott United and the airline faced a customer experience nightmare. Since the scandal, United have issued an apology to Dr Dao and their other customers.

More negative press followed when an award-winning rabbit died whilst travelling in the hold section of a United flight.

Delta placed last on our list with an Adorescore of -14 and high levels of disgust and sadness driven by the most recent overbooking scandal. This is the most recent of what seems like an onslaught of overbooking scandals.

This scandal saw a family with two infant children being told to leave a flight after they refused to give up a seat they had already purchased for their teenage son, who the family sent on an earlier flight to allow their two year old to have a seat. A video surfaced of Delta staff telling the family to give up the toddler’s seat. The footage shows a Delta employee threatening, “This is a federal offense, you and your wife could be in jail and your kids will be in foster care.”

While previous airline’s customer service blunders have had time to settle, Delta’s is so fresh that it caused the lowest Adorescore and customer experience at the time of analysis.

The recent scandals have caused Delta’s Adorescore to plummet and the fallout has impacted customer experience greatly. How United and Delta deal with these issues in the coming weeks will determine the long term impact of these scandals on customer experience.

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