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Consumer Report 2013

In the air travel industry, numerous companies compete for passengers. Customer satisfaction is essential to their success. To get a comprehensive picture of how people in Germany rate the services provided by airline companies, the German Aviation Association (BDL) commissioned the independent market and opinion research organisation “Forschungsgruppe Wahlen” to conduct a representative survey. This report provides a summary of the most important findings. It is updated once a year.

Context and methods

Customer satisfaction is essential to the success of airline companies. In a Germany-wide representative study, customers were asked what they consider to be particularly important and how satisfied they are with the service provided.

When it comes to air travel, customers have plenty of choice. For intra-European flights alone, around 140 scheduled airlines compete for passengers. In such a highly competitive environment, it is vital for the success of a company that customer wishes are satisfied, thereby ensuring long-term customer loyalty.

Many airlines and airports regularly collect data on customer satisfaction in order to improve their services. In addition, there are numerous so-called consumer portals on the Internet. These collect feedback from passengers but cannot be regarded as representative of the population as a whole.

To date, the satisfaction of airline customers has yet to be assessed in comprehensive and representative studies that relate to the entire population and not merely market segments or the customer base of individual companies. To fill this gap, the German Aviation Association (BDL) commissioned “Forschungsgruppe Wahlen” to perform a representative survey of customer satisfaction in the German air travel industry.

Composition of the sample

In total, 2,390 telephone interviews were carried out for the study. The evaluation only includes the opinions of those people who have flown at least once during the past two years, as only they are able to assess the service provided by the airlines. In order to achieve a representative sample (n=1,014) for the group that has flown in the last two years, the total sample was set at an accordingly high level.

The survey is representative of the German resident population aged 18 and above. For the sample, a stratified, two-stage random selection method was employed. The evaluation was weighted according to age, gender and education.

Time of most recent flight (76.6 KB)

1. How often and why do people in Germany fly?

Around half of all people in Germany travel by plane. But for the majority of passengers, this is not an everyday occurrence; they fly infrequently and essentially for leisure.

Over the past two years 42 per cent of people in Germany travelled by plane. Of this group, 61 per cent flew once or twice during this period, 33 per cent  three to nine times and 6 per cent ten times or more. A flight is always considered to be a round trip. The vast majority of air passengers are thus occasional flyers for whom air travel is not an everyday event. This fits with the finding that 66 per cent of customers still consider flying to be something special, women (74 per cent) even more so than men (57 per cent).

Most recent destination (76.1 KB)

71 per cent of passengers last flew to another European country or a non-European Mediterranean country such as Egypt. 19 per cent most recently took an intercontinental flight, and 10 per cent a domestic flight within Germany.

Reason for travel

10 per cent of the passengers surveyed said that their last flight was for business reasons. The actual significance of this customer group for some airline companies is, however, far greater. After all, the majority of business travellers are frequent flyers and generate a large proportion of revenue (passenger surveys at German airports have shown that around 40 per cent of all flights are businessrelated). Accordingly, among those who travel mostly for business reasons, a good ten times as many had taken ten or more flights than the essentially leisure travellers.

Travel class

6 per cent of passengers did not fly in either economy or premium economy class on their last flight but in business or first class. At 18 per cent, the proportion
of business travellers is also disproportionately high.

Purpose and travel class of most recent flight (76.8 KB)

2. What do customers expect when they fly?

The criteria which determine whether individual passengers are satisfied with a flight vary from case to case. Nevertheless, there are criteria which are important to almost all customers.

The perceived flight experience is the sum of many factors. Customers in Germany generally consider it most important for the basic service to be safe, costefficient and smoothly handled. By comparison, they attach less importance to additional services offered before and during the flight. Safety is the priority for most passengers, while on-board entertainment, food and drink rank well below this.

Expectations in terms of the service provided differ between the various customer groups. For example, for those aged 60 and over, the comfort of the waiting areas at the airport is particularly important (72 per cent compared to 64 per cent on average).

What customers regard as particularly important when they fly (132.1 KB)

Business travellers value the time they save

Business travellers do not, per se, have different requirements to customers who travel mainly for leisure. However, a look at the details shows that business travellers rate those aspects more highly which directly enable them to get quickly from A to B. For example, convenient travel to/from the airport (95 per cent) and a short journey time from starting point to destination (79 per cent) are particularly important. This result is congruent with another finding made by “Forschungsgruppe Wahlen”: 82 per cent of those who primarily travel for business reasons stress that air travel enables them to keep to their schedule.

Business travellers are cost-conscious, too

At 93 per cent, an appropriate ticket price is just as important to those travelling mainly for business purposes as it is to leisure travellers (94 per cent).

Business travellers have different priorities (55.2 KB)

3. How satisfied are customers with their flights?

“Forschungsgruppe Wahlen” examined whether the air travel industry succeeds in meeting its customers’ expectations – both as a whole and with respect to individual quality criteria.

For the question of how satisfied customers actually are with the air transport services provided, interviewees were only asked about the last flight they had taken. This was to ensure that the overall picture is not distorted by individual, particularly good or bad past experiences. When asked for an overall assessment of their last flight, 88 per cent of those interviewed said that they were either satisfied or indeed very satisfied with the service provided.

Satisfaction with most recent flight (39.8 KB)

There were practically no differences in this respect between leisure (88 per cent) and business flights (87 per cent). But this is not the case when one specifically considers passengers who last flew in business or first class: Of these, 42 per cent were very satisfied with the service, compared with 33 per cent who had flown in the economy or premium economy class.

Positive verdict on BDL airline companies

Around two thirds of interviewees last flew with one of the member airline companies of the BDL, including all subsidiaries and brands. At 90 per cent, these customers were even more satisfied than those who had flown with a company that is not a member of the BDL (84 per cent).

Any comparison between airline companies is, however, only of limited value. This is because passengers generally perceive flights as a package, for which they largely consider the airline to be responsible, whereas in reality many different companies are involved. These include, for example, the airport operator, the ground handling company and security firms.

Assessment of the individual criteria

People in Germany are particularly satisfied with the safety and cleanliness of the aircraft. However, the interviewees were somewhat less satisfied with the extras, which are not part of the basic service, such as food and drink and entertainment.

Assessment of last flight according to individual criteria (130.7 KB)

4. Where do customers see a need for improvement?

Some customers stated that they were not satisfied with the service provided. What reasons did they give, and are they prepared to pay more for an improved service?

The survey showed a strong overlap between what customers in Germany consider particularly important when thy fly, and what they were particularly satisfied with on their last flight. The companies received high marks on criteria which were seen as especially important by customers, e.g. safety, cleanliness of the cabin and friendly staff.

Customer requirements and their satisfaction (42.0 KB)

Seat comfort does not always meet expectations

For one of the quality criteria examined, however, there is still a gap between customers’ expectations and their assessment of the service provided. Seat comfort in the cabin is important to 93 per cent of interviewees, but only 66 per cent were satisfied when they recalled their last flight.

High price sensitivity

Only 12 per cent of customers said that the service did not meet their expectations. Of these, one in three cited a lack of comfort in the cabin, while other reasons included delays and shortcomings in regard to the service on board. Nevertheless, not even 50 per cent of the dissatisfied customers would be willing to pay a higher ticket price for improved service and comfort (47 per cent compared to 44 per cent for all interviewees). The scope for service improvements is therefore restricted.

5. How is consumer protection implemented in the air travel industry?

In the European Union there are numerous consumer protection regulations which give air passengers specific rights vis-à-vis airline companies. Are these regulations observed?

The Federal Aviation Office (LBA) monitors the implementation of air passenger rights in Germany. In 2012, this authority received 5,254 complaints. Considering that there are more than 200 million air passengers in Germany each year, this number is small – just one complaint was filed for every 38,143 air passengers. That is the equivalent of one person in a packed football stadium.

In terms of the transparency rules for online booking, the findings of the consumer survey show that the airline companies comply with the regulations. One in five passengers books his or her own flight on the respective airline’s website. 95 per cent said that they had found the information they required, and 91 per cent of customers stated that the actual price of the ticket was clear to them from the outset.

Assessment of online booking (73.1 KB)

Background: Consumer rights in the air travel industry

Over the past years, a comprehensive set of regulations has been issued in Europe which gives passengers numerous rights vis-à-vis airline companies, airports and tour operators. Such detailed and stringent regulations do not exist in this form either for other passenger carriers or in countries outside of Europe:

  • EG-Regulation No. 261/2004 stipulates passengers’ rights in terms of additional services (meals and accommodation, free telephone calls etc.) if a flight is cancelled or overbooked, or if there is a long delay. In certain cases, compensation is also paid.
  • EG-Regulation No. 1107/2006 specifies the rights of air passengers with reduced mobility to reliable and barrier-free transport, and defines a range of information and care duties for airline companies and airports.
  • EG-Regulation No. 1008/2008 stipulates a high degree of transparency in regard to ticket prices. Optional services such as travel cancellation insurance or a rental car at the destination must not have been preselected on the booking form. Moreover, the provider must list all taxes, fees and surcharges separately, in addition to the total price.
  • German airline companies have decided to offer passengers the option of settling disputes by conciliation. The airline industry and the federal government have agreed on the key points for legislation on such conciliation, and the German parliament passed this into law. As of 1 January 2014, passengers who complain to their airline company and are unable to reach agreement after two months will be able to turn to an independent conciliation board. This facility is not available in any other European or non-European country.

6. How does the air travel industry rate compared to other transport modes?

Every means of transportation has its own advantages. How do consumers decide between travelling by rail, car, bus or plane?

The survey showed that the number of customers who are dissatisfied with the service provided is smaller in the air travel industry than with other transport modes. The interviewees were asked whether they had ever had such a bad experience with any particular means of transport that they would prefer never to use it again.

The result: Only 8 per cent of those who had a bad experience would prefer not to travel by plane in future. This figure is significantly higher for travels by train (68 per cent), car (19 per cent) and bus (10 per cent).

Preferred means of transport

The interviewees prefer to travel by plane for longer journeys. This preference is considerably stronger amongst those who have travelled by plane ten or more times in the past two years, at 75 per cent compared to 60 per cent for all interviewees. Genderbased differences were also noted. 64 per cent of women prefer to travel by plane for longer journeys, compared to only 56 per cent of men.

Annoyance with means of transport (103.4 KB)

Safety

In terms of safety, air travel was ranked a clear first in the survey: 64 per cent of customers regard flying as the safest mode of transport, while 23 per cent cited rail transport, 8 per cent the car and 1 per cent the bus. This result is also reflected in the accident statistics. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 2012 was the safest year ever in the history of commercial air travel – statistically speaking, a passenger who flies every day will travel for 14,000 years without having an accident.

Comparison of means of transport (317.6 KB)

Value for money

35 per cent of customers interviewed found that air travel offers the best value for money. This is almost twice as many as for rail (19 per cent) and more than double the figure for bus travel (14 per cent). At 42 per cent, business travellers are even more convinced of the value offered by air travel.

EU consumer scoreboard

Other sources also confirm the high level of customer satisfaction within the air travel industry. The European Union consumer scoreboard is based on a representative survey of the EU population. It measures satisfaction with a total of 21 consumer goods and 30 services. In the most recent evaluation, in December 2012, air travel in Germany was ranked fifth, and thus top among all mobility services. Local public transport came 12th, car rental 18th and the train services 29th. Similarly, in the EU-wide evaluation of the survey, air travel was well ahead of other passenger carriers.

EU consumer scoreboard (104.9 KB)

Top ratings for German companies

In comparisons with foreign competitors, German airlines are rated highly for their quality. In studies conducted by the independent German Institute for Service Quality (DISQ), domestic carriers regularly top the tables. Most recently, in January 2013, the four large BDL airline member companies were all among the top 5.

German airports also regularly receive first-class reviews. No less than three German airports – Munich, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf – rank among the top 10 in Europe, according to a survey, published annually by the London-based business consultancy Skytrax, on the basis of passenger and visitor surveys. In the worldwide ranking, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf moved up several places in 2013 compared to 2012.

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