US airlines push service to Europe, Asia, but foreign carriers favored

Cabin crew pose for a photo with new uniforms of Turkish Airlines (THY) designed by Milan-based Haute Couturier Ettore Bilotta to mark its 85th anniversary, at Istanbul Airport in Istanbul, Turkey on August 6, 2019.

Orhan Akkanat | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Even as U.S. airlines add more flights, more comfortable seats and new amenities to their flights to Europe and Asia, a fresh survey of international travelers shows foreign carriers are rated as the best.

J.D. Power’s International Destination Satisfaction Survey found Turkish Airlines was rated as the best airline to fly between North American and Europe, while Japan Airlines was tops among those flying between North America and Asia.

What about Delta, United and American Airlines? The man who conducted the survey of more than 6,000 international travelers says U.S. carriers are not that far behind their foreign competitors.

“What we normally hear is all U.S.-based airlines don’t do as well as the European or Asian or Middle Eastern airlines, but they held their own in this study,” said Michael Taylor, who oversees travel intelligence for J.D. Power.

Among the big three U.S. airlines, Delta is rated the highest for flights to both Europe and to Asia.

The survey validates Delta’s move in recent years to add more seats and flights to Europe and Asia. For example, in 2017, Delta started reconfiguring some of its planes to add a new segment of seats and services between the main cabin and the Delta One business class. The new segment, Delta Premium Select, includes bigger seats that recline further than those in the main cabin, a footrest and upgraded meals. The selling point: A Premium Select seat costs slightly more than a seat in coach but far less than one in business class.

Last June, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told CNBC the Premium Select cabin has been hit with Delta customers.

“Passenger demand for the product has been phenomenal,” he said.

By comparison, United is ranked the lowest among airlines flying between North America and Asia. That rating doesn’t surprise Taylor.

“One of the big things that we see with the second-time flyer is past experience, and United’s past experience has not been that great, but it is improving,” he said. CNBC reached out to United Airlines for a comment on the survey results.

J.D. Power’s survey found vast differences among those booking trips from North America to Europe and Asia for the first time or for a repeat trip. For those making their initial foreign trip, the price of the ticket is the most important factor. By comparison, repeat travellers say the biggest reason for choosing an airline for a long flight to Europe or Asia is their past experience.

“They’re looking to say ‘Okay, I had great service. I’m going to spend a couple hundred dollars more on that ticket and have a more comfortable flight, more enjoyable flight on this long haul’,” said Taylor.

With more travellers willing to pay up for an international flight, all airlines are spending more time and money on their flights to Europe and Asia. One area where carriers are trying to stand out are the meals and drinks they offer on the long-haul flights.

It’s a primary reason Turkish Airlines was ranked number one between North America and Europe. “The food and beverage service on Turkish is something that people mentioned an awful lot,” said Taylor.

Can the Delta, United and American eventually catch their foreign competitors in terms of passenger satisfaction to Europe and Asia? Perhaps.

“They want to attract that high-ticket passenger, so they’re putting more investment into it,” said Taylor.

Top-rated airlines from North America to Europe

  1. Turkish Airlines
  2. Virgin Atlantic
  3. British Airways and Delta (tie)
  4. Air France
  5. American Airlines
  6. United Airlines
  7. Lufthansa
  8. KLM
  9. Air Canada
  10. Norwegian

Source: J.D. Power

Top-rated airlines from North America to Asia

  1. Japan Airlines
  2. Delta
  3. Korean Air
  4. ANA
  5. Cathay Pacific
  6. Air China
  7. EVA Air
  8. American Airlines
  9. Air Canada
  10. China Eastern Airlines
  11. United Airlines

Source: J.D. Power

—CNBC’s Meghan Reeder contributed to this report

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