Airlines react differently to study showing 130% rise in complaints

CHICAGO: Airline PR heads were the focus of intense media attention last week when the surprising results of the new Airline Quality Rating study were announced.

CHICAGO: Airline PR heads were the focus of intense media attention last week when the surprising results of the new Airline Quality Rating study were announced.

CHICAGO: Airline PR heads were the focus of intense media attention

last week when the surprising results of the new Airline Quality Rating

study were announced.



According to Dean Headley, an associate professor of marketing at

Wichita State University and one of the study’s authors, the results,

which showed that consumer complaints rose 130% in 1999, suggested a

major perception gap between what airlines say they are doing and how

consumers feel about them. The report, he believes, puts pressure on

airlines to deliver on their promises of better service.



’We feel that holding their feet to the fire is a good thing,’ he

said.



’We like to keep the pressure on from a PR standpoint.’



Headley was so swamped with media calls about the study, released last

Monday, that he lost his voice during a Tuesday appearance on NBC’s

Today show. Surveying the PR fallout, Headley quipped, ’Every year we

make one, maybe two airlines happy.’ This year, the top finishers were

Southwest and Continental - both of whom reacted quite differently to

the news.



Continental issued a press release touting its high ranking, while

Southwest remained silent. ’If we tried to toot our own horn, the media

wouldn’t pay attention,’ said Christine Turneable-Connelly, Southwest’s

Midwest region communications specialist. She admitted, however, that

Southwest prepared both good-news and bad-news media responses in

anticipation of the survey.



Headley said airlines that have done well in past studies have often

hyped the results in their PR efforts. USAir once put up banners touting

its rankings at airports around the country, while those airlines

showing improvement over past years have trumpeted their gains.



Northwest, which suffered a blistering barrage of consumer complaints at

the start of 1999, came out as the most improved airline in the study,

ranking fourth in overall quality.



’We got a tremendous amount of coverage on that,’ said media director

Jon Austin. He added that the airline will not actively promote the

study results: ’I’d like a slightly higher number (than four) before I

go out there and promote our ranking.’



However, several of the airline PR pros believe the annual study hurts

their industry. ’Although we might do very well, if the industry as a

whole is having problems, it does cause us problems,’ said

Turneable-Connelly.





TOP 10 AIRLINES



1. Southwest



2. Continental



3. Delta



4. Northwest



5. Alaska Airlines



6. US Airways



7. American



8. America West



9. TWA



10. United



Source: Wichita State University and the University of Nebraska at

Omaha.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in