Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport is filling up with holiday travelers this weekend, testing the hometown hub’s mettle in getting vacationers to and from their destinations with smiles on their faces.
Overall, Sky Harbor does a slightly better than average job of satisfying customers, according to J.D. Power and Associates, which asked the flying public what they thought of the country’s airports and airlines.
The hometown carrier, US Airways, however, fared worse than the national average.
In rating airlines, only Jet Blue, which has a few daily flights from Sky Harbor, scored relatively high with passengers, earning 820 points out of 1,000.
Southwest Airlines fared a distant next best nationwide with a 735 ranking.
Tempe-based US Airways, which is struggling to integrate two vastly different carrier routes and structures, rated only 659, well below the average for traditional or lowcost carriers. Tempe-based America West Airlines bought the flailing US Airways in September and is still in the process of integrating staff and operations.
The annual J.D Power survey results are better than last year’s premerger ratings, said US Airways spokeswoman Valerie Wunder. That’s especially encouraging since passengers were surveyed January to May while several systems were going through changes, she said.
“As an integrated airline, we are better, and we’re happy with that,” Wunder said. “We know we still have a ways to go, but we are focusing on the employees, the process and making a consistent travel experience.”
It is people and procedures that make passengers happy not the amenities, J. D. Power reported.
“The study finds that ‘process’ factors, such as check-in, how passengers board the plane and how baggage is delivered at the destination, and ‘people’ factors, such as hiring the right people and training and enabling them to be successful, are what differentiate carriers in the eyes of passengers,” the report said.
Airports have an even tougher time pleasing passengers, based on J.D. Power’s survey.
And it seems to make little difference how big or busy the place is.
A medium-size airport, which handles 10 million to 30 million passengers a year, got the best score. That’s New York’s LaGuardia International, which earned 722 points from the travelers surveyed.
The top ranked large airport — 30 million-plus passengers a year — was Las Vegas McCarran International with a 706 rating.
Sky Harbor earned a 693 from passengers. The large airport average score was 692.
The aviation industry overall fares worse than most of the other business segments that his company studies, said Jim Gaz, J.D. Power senior director of travel and entertainment.
“Airports are down near the bottom in customer satisfaction relative to, say, telecommunications or hotels,” Gaz said.
That’s partly because travel itself is stressful and passengers are less forgiving of hassles in the process.
Partly, the stress is related to security measures added since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he said.
Airports and the Transportation Security Administration have made great strides in smoothing the process in recent years, Gaz said. And it’s helped.
The J.D. Power survey found that 47 percent of the passengers feel “very safe” flying domestically, while only 13 percent are as secure flying outside of North America, Gaz said.
But there’s still a hassle factor.
Passengers surveyed were asked to rate airports in eight categories: Airport accessibility, check-in/ baggage check, security check, terminal facilities, food and beverage, retail services, baggage claim and immigration/customs control.
The two factors most important to the passengers are airport accessibility and check-in/baggage check, Gaz said, followed closely by terminal facilities.
Sky Harbor fares above average in all those categories, Gaz said.
The hometown airport works hard to better the customer experience, said Deborah Ostreicher, Sky Harbor spokeswoman.
“We’re the No. 1 airport in the Southwest without slot machines,” she said. “We’re striving to be America’s friendliest airport.”