NEW YORK: The coffee might be bland and the peanuts won't fill you up, but Southwest Airlines soars above its US competitors when it comes to corporate reputation.
That was the main finding of the latest Reputation Quotient study, conducted by Harris Interactive and the Reputation Institute, led by NYU professor Charles Fombrun.
The airline RQ polled 20,867 US adults online in early March. The RQ scores were calculated based on 20 individual attributes that are classified into six key drivers of reputation.
Southwest topped the list, followed by Delta, American and United. Southwest dominated across the board, finishing first among business and personal travelers and a close second among people who have not traveled in the past three years.
'Southwest is very good at capturing mind share, even among people who don't fly it,' Fombrun said. 'Reputation goes way beyond current usage and includes impressions, perceptions and discussions people have with friends.'
Southwest spokesperson Beth Harbin chalked up the airline's first-place finish to 'offering a dependable product and treating people like human beings. It seems like an easy thing to do, but not every airline is doing it very well.'
'These people (at Southwest) know what they're doing and they like what they're doing,' Fombrun added.
The survey found that the three main drivers of reputation in the airline industry were quality and reliability, workplace environment and financial performance. Interestingly, respondents reacted negatively to airlines that were perceived as more strategic and opportunistic.
'Airlines that had higher ratings on a 'clear vision of the future' tend to be more bureaucratic and standoffish, and that affected people's comments,' Fombrun said.
The January crash of an Alaska Airlines flight came just weeks before Harris did its poll, and not surprisingly, the airline plummeted to the bottom of the list. But respondents were pleased with the way the airline handled the crisis, and Fombrun sees a lot of bounce-back potential.' Perceptions die hard, however: despite its recent turnaround, Continental's reputation still suffers from two bankruptcy filings years ago. Among non-US-based carriers, Singapore Airlines topped the rankings.