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JetBlue, Continental soar in Zagat airline survey

Americans may be flying more, but in the wake of new fees and fewer frills, the latest Zagat survey isn't finding them any happier about the experience.
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More Americans are returning to the skies, but finding them not-so-friendly as airlines tack on more fees for checked baggage and do away with the free in-flight extras they once bragged about, according to the latest survey by the Zagat organization.

Using its signature 30-point rating system, Zagat surveyed 8,000 frequent fliers on its website about their experience with 16 domestic airlines and 74 international carriers.

JetBlue Airways was named the best airline for economy class, followed by Southwest Airlines, Continental Airlines , AirTran Airways and Delta Airlines. Southwest was rated best value.

For the third straight year, Continental was ranked first for its premium service, followed by American Airlines, Delta, United Airlines and AirTran.

Although JetBlue and Continental earned bragging rights, overall the survey found that air travelers are unimpressed with some of the latest trends in the air travel industry.

“People are certainly unhappy with the entire airline industry, pretty much from top to bottom,” said Zagat CEO Tim Zagat, who announced the survey’s findings Monday on TODAY.

When it comes to fees for checked bags, 45 percent of the survey respondents say they try to avoid flying airlines that charge extra for large bags; 42 percent have frequent flier status on airlines that waive the fee.

“My bags get better services, but they pay extra,” one survey participant griped.

Sign of recovery?
Although hardly conclusive, the Zagat survey may prove to be encouraging to those looking to it for signs of an economic recovery.

On average, the survey participants boarded 17.4 flights, up from 16.6 flights in 2009 and 16.3 the year before that. Although higher than last year’s, the figure is still well below the all-time high of 19.7 flights each traveler participating in the 2007 survey flew on average, according to Zagat.

When choosing a flight, the primary considerations for travelers were direct routes (65 percent); ticket price (55 percent); past experiences (50 percent); and comfort/legroom (46%).

In the section of the survey where respondents got to vent, they had plenty to say about the diminishing size of their personal space on most airlines.

“The only thing missing is a blindfold and a cigarette,” one said.

“Like a cattle car, except the cows are mercifully slaughtered at trip’s end,” wrote another.

Best (and worst) airports Portland International Airport once again ranked first in customer satisfaction with the facility. Tampa, Salt Lake City, Detroit (Wayne County) and Denver also ranked high.

New York’s LaGuardia International Airport once again found itself at the bottom of the barrel in terms of frequent flier satisfaction. Joining LaGuardia near the bottom of the list was New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

“They have not fared well for many years and I think the people of the Port Authority should ask themselves why this is,” Tim Zagat said.

The results of the airline survey can be found on