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Road Life

What do you hate about airlines?

By STEVE HUETTEL
Published November 9, 2005


It's no news flash that you frequent fliers out there aren't happy. But the depth of your dissatisfaction, as evidenced in a poll released Monday by Zagat Survey, has to make the airlines squirm.

This year's ratings of service, comfort and food (food, what food?) were the worst since publishers of the Zagat travel and dining guides started asking frequent fliers what they thought about airlines in 1990.

Every airline in the survey slipped since the last poll in 2001. United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and US Airways - all in bankruptcy court or recently departed - saw the biggest declines among 5,277 frequent fliers and travel professionals who took part in the online survey.

Here are a few of participants' most choice comments:

-- "Challenging log-in, difficult ticketing, rude gate agents, wretched food and contortionist seating - what's not to like?"

-- "This is why the Pope kisses the ground every time he deplanes."

-- "The uncomfortable served the inedible by the indifferent."

On Zagat's 30-point scale,the highest scores went to Midwest Airlines (21.4) and JetBlue Airways (19.29). The two were also Nos. 1 and 2 in the 2001 survey.

At the bottom were US Airways (9.17), Northwest Airlines (9.78) and Spirit Airlines (10.09). Anything below 10 points rates as "poor," and US Airways' score was the worst for a domestic carrier in the five Zagat airline surveys. Only one of the traditional "legacy" carriers, Continental Airlines, broke into the top 10.

There was one bright spot: airline Web sites. JetBlue, Southwest Airlines, Independence, Continental and American Airlines scored in the "very good to excellent" range.

Customers' biggest complaint category was for delays, cancellations and waiting (42 percent). After that came camped or crowded seating (21 percent), poor service (13 percent), security (8 percent), jet lag (5 percent) and bad or no food (2 percent).

Independence not free from financial pressures

The parent of spunky Independence Air finally succumbed to financial pressures Monday and joined the ranks of airlines in bankruptcy.

Independence was formerly Atlantic Coast Airlines, a commuter carrier for United Airlines that tried to fly solo as a discounter. The airline quickly lost altitude as high fuel prices and low passenger loads drained its coffers.

Last November, Independence touched down at Tampa International Airport with 50-seat jets flying nonstop to such destinations as Huntsville, Ala., and Charleston, S.C. It retreated after Delta jumped on the same thinly traveled routes.

Independence still has two daily flights to Dulles International Airport with full-size Airbus jets. It wants to auction itself off to investors, who may well decide to carve up the assets instead of keeping Independence alive.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or 813 226-3384.

[Last modified November 9, 2005, 00:39:17]


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