American-US Airways Merger Moves Smoothly Per Passengers

Over a year into its merger with US Airways, American shows no negative impact on customer satisfaction, a departure from a pattern seen in the aftermath of many mergers tracked by the ACSI.

The difference may lie in American’s slower approach to combining operations with US Airways, although it is still early in the merger. American brought US Airways customers into a joint loyalty program in March (after the ACSI Travel 2015 report interviews took place). The key step of reservation system integration will happen later this year.

Following its acquisition of AirTran in 2011, discount carrier Southwest appears to have stabilized with only a few bumps in satisfaction. Southwest’s merger pace was slow, with the last AirTran-branded flight taking place in December 2014. Southwest, however, has lagged rival JetBlue for passenger satisfaction over the past four years. JetBlue currently ranks number one in the airline industry with an ACSI score of 81 (0 to 100 scale).

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For the industry at large, consolidation has been the name of the game over the last several years. In 2008, legacy carrier Delta acquired Northwest—an airline with a history of lower customer satisfaction. Delta received its single operating certificate from the FAA in December 2009 and by 2011, its passenger satisfaction had tumbled to the very bottom of the industry (56). Delta has since recovered, with satisfaction stabilizing at 71 after a three-year climb.

The story for United differs in that it merged in 2010 with an airline that had a history of significantly higher ACSI scores—Continental. While the partnership gave United an initial 2% uptick in passenger satisfaction, the Continental brand’s ACSI score endured a two-year freefall. In 2012, the much larger United had a series of high-profile customer service issues, including reservations systems failures, website outages, and flights delays or cancellations. For the past two years, United has been flat 60—by far the lowest score of the legacy group.