Airline battles with passengers rock perception scores more than usual

Ted MarzilliCEO YouGov Direct
May 15, 2017, 6:06 PM GMT+0

Consumers appear to be getting more critical of insensitive airline treatment: since the United Airlines crisis broke on April 9th, incidents which may have barely registered with consumers in the past are now hurting perception scores to a far greater degree.

The data itself supports this shifting trend, which may portend a more challenging environment for the airline industry going forward.

YouGov BrandIndex measured airline consumer perception with its Buzz score, which asks respondents: "If you've heard anything about the brand in the last two weeks, through advertising, news or word of mouth, was it positive or negative?" A score can range from -100 to 100 with a zero score equaling a neutral position.

In the year leading up to April 9th, American Airlines kicked a blind woman and her service dog off a flight, was accused of racial discrimination by singer Jason Derulo, had a pilot die just before landing in Albuquerque, one of their planes diverted after a soda spill, and a plane catch on fire at O’Hare Airport, and removed two Muslim women from a plane because the attendant felt “threatened.”

Over that same time frame, Delta apologized for a ranting Trump supporter, removed an Arab-American “prankster” who claimed passengers were uncomfortable when he spoke with his mother in Arabic over the phone, and dragged a woman off a plane in Detroit for refusing “to comply with boarding and baggage check procedures.”

All of these issues were widely reported and most of them went viral. The most any of those incidents dropped is two points in Buzz score, and often one point. In other words, closer to a blip than a hit.
The only exception was Delta Airlines computer failure last summer, which grounded thousands of flights worldwide and took them several weeks to recover. That crisis pushed Delta’s Buzz score down 27 points, from 6 to minus 20.

But even this exception supports my point about today’s increased sensitivities.

Following the April 22nd three-way dispute between an angry American Airlines flight attendant, a woman he accidentally hit with her stroller, and another passenger who threatened a brawl, the airline’s score decreased 28 points to a -23 Buzz score, lower than last summer’s Delta technical problem which impacted flights around the world.

On May 4th, two more videos went viral: one of a family being kicked off a Delta flight after the father switched the seat meant for his older son (who didn’t take the flight) with his infant son in a baby seat. The other was a 12-year-old boy’s phone being smacked out of his hand by a Delta agent explaining why their flight was delayed 17 hours. Delta’s Buzz score dropped 18 points, from 7 to -11 following those incidents.

By comparison after the April 9th dragging incident, United dropped 67 points throughout the month of April, from 4 to -63, and is very slowly inching back to recovery now with a score of -57, a full five weeks after their situation went viral.

Buzz: United, American Airlines, Delta