Air rage is exploding daily, according to the video evidence, but passengers are happier than ever with North America's airlines, an annual survey counters.
Customer satisfaction with airlines grew for the fifth straight year and reached its highest point yet, according to a J.D. Power and Associates survey released just days after fistfights broke out on an airplane and in airport terminal, and a month after a passenger was dragged from a United Continental Holdings flight in the United States.
Despite the public incidents and the public and private griping of Canadian travellers whose flights into and out of Pearson International Airport in Toronto have been cancelled or delayed in recent weeks, "the industry is really getting its act together," Michael Taylor, who heads the travel practice at J.D. Power, said on Wednesday.
Satisfaction reached 756 on a 1,000-point scale, Mr. Taylor said, up by 30 points from results in the 2016 survey of more than 11,000 passengers who flew on traditional airlines and their low-cost competitors.
The survey was conducted between April, 2016, and March of this year, so the most recent examples of dissatisfied passengers may not be reflected in the results, but Mr. Taylor said that doesn't matter.
Passengers are generally satisfied that fares have fallen – the average fare dropped 8.5 per cent to $349 (U.S.) last year – that airlines are losing fewer bags and that on-time performance has generally improved, he added.
Trust of airlines has been falling and "the United incident is a crystallization of a downward trend in peoples' minds about how much the customers trust that airlines have their back," said Kent Grayson, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University in Chicago.
But that doesn't translate into dissatisfaction, Prof. Grayson added, because travellers are likely happy that the fares they're paying are lower, or they bought the lowest-price tickets they could find so they're not expecting red-carpet service.
The attitude is: "I know they don't have my back but since I'm able to go to New York City and back for $139, I'm willing to accept that," he said.
Canada's two largest airlines, however, did not score well on the survey.
Air Canada fell to last place among the ranking of five traditional North American carriers with a score of 709. WestJet Airlines Ltd. ranked third among four low-cost carriers with a score of 736. Both airlines were below average in their segments.
The survey may also have missed the growing frustration with passengers on those two airlines whose flights through Pearson have been delayed or cancelled because of construction on the airport's busiest and longest runway.
Both airlines have sent letters to passengers in recent weeks apologizing for the delays, but social-media sites are peppered with critics demanding compensation.
Despite those indications of unhappiness, both airlines are reporting increased traffic.
WestJet said on Tuesday that revenue-passenger miles, a key indicator of demand, rose 13 per cent in April, with the airline carrying a record two million passengers.
Air Canada said last week that revenue passengers miles soared 14 per cent in the three months ended March 31. Air Canada does not release monthly data.
Airline spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the Skytrax survey is the benchmark study for the airline industry and rates Air Canada the only four-star network carrier in North America. The J.D. Power survey showed that Air Canada's score was higher than 2016, so customers are recognizing improvements, Mr. Fitzpatrick said.
WestJet said the Canadian sample size is small and it does not have access to the data that would allow it to examine the results.