More than half of Americans believe airline customer service is in decline and millennials lead the complaints

13 January, 2020

Millennials are twice as likely as baby boomers to complain about airline service, according to new research of American air passengers. Worryingly, more than half of the surveyed American passengers said they were disappointed by airline customer service with 56% saying that airline customer service is on the decline.

The findings are from research by value services specialist ValuePenguin. It found that just under half (46%) of Americans it surveyed whom had flown in the past year said they issued a complaint against an airline. While more than 96% of respondents were at least somewhat satisfied by their most recent flight, nearly 56% of flyers said they think airline customer service is declining. Millennials and men felt the strongest about this.

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines were noted as among the best US air carriers, while ULCC Spirit Airlines as the worst, and by a margin. Flyers may well have lower expectations when using a budget operator, but still, the survey found that over a third (36%) of millennials felt that budget airlines treat passengers poorly, and that they have a right to complain.

CHART - American Airlines and Southwest Airlines were found to offer the best passenger experience, according to survey respondentsSource: ValuePenguin

Those same millennials (54%) were found to be more likely than Generation Xers (37%) and baby boomers (24%) to complain about airline service issues. They're also more likely to say customer service is declining (59% versus 54% versus 52%, respectively).

Airing a complaint on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and LinkedIn) is more common, and how companies respond can have a big impact, especially for younger consumers when it comes to brand loyalty. The question of loyalty could be a reason for the big variance given that baby boomers are a lot more likely to be members of an airline loyalty programme.

CHART - Millennials were found to be more likely than Generation Xers and baby boomers to complain about airline service issues, while all agreed that airline service is deterioratingSource: ValuePenguin

Around half of survey respondents think main cabin passengers are treated poorly compared to those flying first class, and the majority (51%) think the same can be said for how basic economy flyers are treated in comparison to those in the main cabin.

ValuePenguin says that besides lodging complaints and hoping for a satisfactory resolution, travellers can try a few proactive moves to try to make their flight experiences better. These include opening an airline credit card, doing research, being courteous when travelling and consider paying out for an upgrade.

"The bottom line - air travel can be stressful enough, but when poor customer service goes along with it, it can leave passengers feeling extra frustrated. Doing research, paying for upgrades or mentally preparing yourself - among other things - could help you to get through whatever comes your way," it explains.

"If things still go awry, be sure to understand your passenger rights. If you have a legitimate complaint, submit it in a timely manner," it adds.