Airline Differentiation

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Airline Differentiation

Affordability, flight schedule, reliability, seat comfort, and customer service are five differentiating factors that influence a consumer's choice of airline. Overall, Delta Airlines did well at differentiating itself in three of the five categories, more than any other airline.


Flight Schedule

  • The Ipsos' 2018 Air Travel Survey indicates that flight schedule is prioritized second only behind affordability when leisure travelers choose an airline.
  • When considering schedules, airlines with the most flights available are differentiating themselves for people who need to have more flight options.
  • American Airlines offers the most flights per day (6,700) to the most destinations (350), followed by Delta Airlines, which offers 5,400 daily departures to 306 destinations.


  • The reliability of on-time departures and arrivals is the third priority of leisure travelers when selecting an airline.
  • According to the OAG, Hawaiian Airlines scored the best for on-time arrivals between June 2018 and May 2019 at 87.8%.
  • Delta Airlines scored 83.4% to land in second place.
  • Alaska Airlines and Spirit Airlines were the only other airlines with 80% on-time arrivals or higher, with 80.7% and 80.4% respectively.

Seat Comfort

  • Leisure travelers also rank seat comfort high in terms of priority, as it came in fourth on the Ipsos 2018 Air Travel Survey.
  • According to AirfareWatchdog and SeatGuru, JetBlue has the most legroom of any U.S. airline at 32-33 inches, plus they offer the ability to upgrade to "Even More Space" seats that have 37-41 inches of legroom.
  • Southwest Airlines comes in second for legroom, with 32 inches of space, but emergency exit rows have as many as 39 inches of legroom.
  • For overall comfort, JetBlue nabbed the top spot according to a WalletHub survey, followed by United Airlines.

Customer Service

  • The fifth overall priority for leisure travelers when selecting an airline is customer service, including reservation and gate agents and flight attendants.
  • According to AirHelp, the top three U.S. airlines for service are American Airlines with a service score of 7.9 out of 10, Delta Airlines with a service score of 7.7 out of 10, and United Airlines with a service score of 7.1 out of 10.
  • All three U.S.-based are ranked low in terms of service compared with global airlines, ranking 39th, 52nd, and 68th respectively.
  • In terms of claims processing when something goes wrong, the top three U.S. airlines are American Airlines with a claims processing score of 8.8 out of 10, United Airlines with a claims processing score of 8.5 out of 10, and Delta Airlines with a claims processing score of 7.5 out of 10.
  • All three rank better globally for claims processing than for service, coming in at 3rd, 6th, and 22nd overall respectively.

Research Strategy

To provide five differentiators that influence customer choice of airline, we relied on a 2018 survey of airline customers and their prioritization of eight influential factors. We took the top five and found at least two airlines that are excelling at those differentiation points according to official surveys.