According to a new survey, two of the biggest airlines in Canada: Air Canada and WestJet scored below average for customer satisfaction among major North American carriers.
The poll was conducted by J.D. Power, which determined that Air Canada and WestJet are falling below the average customer satisfaction figure of 782 on a 1,000 point scale for economy class service. WestJet scored 777 and edged out Air Canada, which scored 765.
Reasons for low customer satisfaction
The reason these two airlines scored below average is because of pricier fares, fewer flights, and crowded planes. Michael Taylor, the managing director of travel, hospitality, and retail at the Michigan-based consumer analytics company, said that demand remains strong regardless.
Taylor said that many are running at “peak efficiency”, though higher labour and fuel costs compared to 2019 have hampered profit margins, and the capacity has also not yet reached pre-pandemic levels. As a result, carriers yielded higher revenue this year after a prolonged industry slump prompted by the pandemic.
There has appeared to be a shortage of global pilots in North America, which does explain why fewer flights ply the skies compared to four years ago. Some airlines are slimming down their schedules, ditching smaller aeroplanes, and trying to fit in as many passengers as possible.
Michael Taylor said that the reason customer satisfaction is below average is because airlines are now more full and have a higher cargo factor. Meanwhile, the flow of peaceful travel after two years of border restrictions and COVID-19 health concerns has pushed prices north. He said that because of high demand, ticket prices have significantly risen, and they have been rising for the past 2½ years or so. For the majority, the price is the key factor in satisfaction.
That dissatisfaction can be measured in ways other than polls. The Canadian Transportation Agency’s complaint backlog reached almost 45,000 as of late April, more than tripling from the previous year and taking at least 18 months on average per case. Many cases include compensation claims following airline delays or cancellations.
The protracted outrage spurred the federal government to propose changes to Canada’s passenger rights charter last month in an attempt to close compensation loopholes and toughen sanctions. While a slew of new airlines has made domestic air travel in Canada more affordable than ever — particularly in the busiest corridors – travellers in many regions and on international routes face higher fares and fewer options, according to aviation data.
Changes are being made
The sparser flight boards at many airports are also the result of a de facto partition of the country by the two main players: Air Canada and WestJet, which account for around 80% of the domestic market.
WestJet, based in Calgary, has eliminated services in Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Canada in order to refocus on its home territory out west. According to Cirium data, it has also reduced flights on some of the busier corridors, including about four out of every five journeys between Toronto and Montreal.
Air Canada, located in Montreal, has followed the example, remaining in central and eastern Canada but cutting back in the west. It also cancelled 26 regional lines east of Winnipeg in June 2020, with only two restarting service since then.
The survey released Wednesday ranked airlines in three different categories: first class and business class, premium economy, and economy and basic economy. In the first two groups, Air Canada was placed fifth and sixth. For economy, taking into consideration the vast number of passengers, WestJet ranked fifth, and Air Canada came eighth out of 11. Neither of the airlines responded immediately to a request for comment.