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When it comes to air travel, some hiccups, like weather-related flight delays and the occasional lost bags, are unavoidable. But one factor that is within an airline's control is their customer service. What makes the difference between a positive experience and a negative one usually isn't how long you waited on the tarmac or whether the in-flight headphones worked, but how you were treated. Good customer service can go miles toward making a passenger feel welcomed or smoothing over a difficult situation. But unfortunately, not every airline is able to pull this off with aplomb: the 25 airlines listed here ranked last in customer service in this year's World's Best Awards survey.
From the moment a passenger clicks onto an airline's website to the second they retrieve their last piece of luggage from baggage claim and make their way to the airport exit, there are so many opportunities for a brand to get their customer interface right--and perhaps even more ways they can screw it up, as the 2015 T+L survey responses highlighted. For more on the methodology of our survey, click here.
Several readers noted that a clunky website can be maddening, especially when coupled with inadequate phone support, as is a hectic boarding system. Other T+L readers complained about shoddy loyalty programs that inspired, well, disloyalty, with fewer benefits and expanded restrictions that make it difficult to use frequent flyer miles. But the subject that prompted the most rancor was unfriendly or disinterested airline representatives and flight attendants. "Poorly trained staff," wrote one survey respondent about Spirit Airlines, which received the dubious distinction of being the number one worst airline for customer service. "Unprofessional and not helpful on the plane flight."
Disgruntled tweets, frustrated Facebook messages, detailed critiques on travel review websites like SkyTrax, and official complaints registered with the Department of Transportation in a public report help complete the picture now that social media is making it easier than ever for travelers to voice their concerns. Some users craft concise complaints in 140 characters or less on Twitter, while others document their displeasure with tell-all Instagrams. "Hey @AmericanAir," said Instagram user @UpgradeToFirst, who posted an unappetizing photo of an inflight meal. "Is this the best you can do? The taco salad is absolutely gross."
With critiques that range from the heartbreaking to the utterly outrageous, here's what T+L readers and other travelers had to say about customer service on the 25 airlines that came in on the bottom of pile.
See all of the World’s Worst Airlines for Customer Service Score: 75.000 Although there were a few complaints about Austrian Airlines on online air travel guide Skytrax—one traveler found the Austrian Airline’s staff at the airport in Innsbruck to be “particularly unhelpful and rude”—T+L readers were gentler with their comments, lauding the airline for having great food and an indulgent business class experience. One reader acknowledged, however, that other passengers might not have had as good of a flight, writing, “My rating may be skewed because I was upgraded to Business Class :)” Photo: vario images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
No. 23: LAN Airlines, International
See all of the World’s Worst Airlines for Customer Service Score: 74.921 This South American airline group based in Santiago, Chile, received mixed marks from World’s Best Awards survey respondents. “Once a LAN plane is in the air it’s the best business class in the sky,” wrote one customer, noting the spacious layout of the brand’s 787s and excellent food and service. But the on-the-ground experience wasn’t reviewed nearly as well: “Takeoff delayed with no explanation. Agents give you the runaround, reserved seating not honored.” Reviewers on Skytrax also complained about changed flight times and poor communication, as well as a frustrating website and chaotic boarding process. Photo: Stefano Paterna / Alamy Stock Photo
No. 22: WestJet, International
See all of the World’s Worst Airlines for Customer Service Score: 73.478 Based in Calgary, WestJet is a low-cost Canadian carrier that’s been in the air since 1996. Although their website states a commitment to a “customer-first attitude,” actual customers sometimes tell a different story. “Seating comfort and room is lacking,” said one T+L reader. “At the desk, WestJet charged for our bags while telling us that they were saving us money,” said a SkyTrax user. “Some people find the corny jokes from the staff amusing. We prefer fewer (maybe better) jokes and better more efficient service.” Echoed another reviewer: “Flight crew were nice but definitely not professional.” Photo: Radharc Images / Alamy Stock Photo
No. 21: Air Canada, International
See all of the World’s Worst Airlines for Customer Service Score: 72.544 Last year, 17 travelers complained to the Department of Transportation (DOT) about problems with Air Canada’s refunds. “3 family members on @AirCanada flight,” said @RayBee150. “Engine starts on fire. Emergency landing. Losing a day of vacation. Receive $20 meal voucher. #Brutal.” T+L readers and other travelers also complained about small, uncomfortable seating and unresponsive staff. “The service or lack of it is something that Air Canada needs to sort out asap,” wrote a SkyTrax reviewer. “All the staff looked like they would have preferred to have been somewhere else.” Photo: Torontonian/ Alamy Stock Photo
No. 20: Air France, International
See all of the World’s Worst Airlines for Customer Service Score: 71.806 Nothing cramps a good trip like a lost bag. @TyDamasio documented the return of his backpack on Instagram. “Finally got my bag back a week later. #AirFranceSucks.” The Parisian translation of the derogatory hashtag has over 100 uses on Instagram. T+L readers seem to have had conflicting experiences, with some raving about the airline and others sharply criticizing inconsistencies in the rewards program, a problem that led one respondent, a former Air France Platinum member, to stop flying the airline altogether. Service at airports was also a problem for some readers: “Once the plane took off, business class was excellent. Food very good. Service very good. But on-the-ground customer service of Air France reps is dismal.” Photo: David Wall / Alamy Stock Photo
No. 19: Sun Country Airlines, Domestic
See all of the World’s Worst Airlines for Customer Service Score: 71.250 This small, Minnesota-based airline earned the number 5 spot in this year’s list of world’s best airlines for food, in no small part because of the fantastic selection of micro brews they serve onboard. But there may be room for improvement in other areas. The number of positive survey comments about the airline has sharply declined in the past few years, perhaps owing to the 2011 sale of the company and ensuing changes to its once raved-about loyalty program. Photo: Flyver / Alamy Stock Photo