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TripIt Presents: 3rd Annual Happy Travelers Report

High-Flying Expectations

Do preconceived expectations affect flyer happiness?

Whether for business or leisure, all travel is personal. Especially when it comes to flying. Some like to board early, others late; some like the aisle seat, some like the window; some like to work, others to rest. And while we understand one size never fits all, we wanted to know, generally, what travelers have come to expect on their flights. That’s why we’re back with the third installment of our happy travelers report, our annual deep dive into what actually makes travelers happy when they take to the skies.

This year, TripIt analyzed more than a million flight ratings (1- to 5-star scale) over the course of a year to understand which factors most impact flyer happiness. We found that travelers bring more than just luggage with them when they fly. From departure season, to ticket type, to flight duration, to amenities—when it comes to flyer happiness, it’s all about meeting (and beating) traveler expectations.

Time

Time is arguably the most important commodity for travelers, even more so than ticket price. Afterall, what good is saving $20 when it means a 10-hour layover?

Duration

It’s no surprise, then, that short-haul flights (less than three hours) rank high in traveler-reported satisfaction, averaging 4.34 out of 5 stars. But what is surprising? The fact that ultra-long-haul flights (clocking in at more than 12 hours) actually rank slightly higher with a 4.35-star average.

Rating by Flight Duration

Indeed, the top three highest-rated US-origin international flights aren’t the quick, cheap jaunts across the Pond. Rather, the list is dominated by ultra-long flights, with the top spot taken by the daunting 17-hour+ flight from Dallas, Texas, to Sydney, Australia. Averaging 4.6 stars, the Dallas – Sydney flight ranks 9 percent higher than the US-origin international flight average of 4.22.

“Whether it is higher quality entertainment systems or better meals or just a happier crew, ultra-long-haul flying does come with some benefits compared to the shorter hops more commonly seen.”

Top 10 International Routes by Flight Rating

RankRouteCities ServedDurationRating
1DFW-SYDDallas/Fort Worth - Sydney17:204.60
2JFK-DXBNew York - Dubai12:254.57
3ORD-NRTChicago - Tokyo13:204.56
4BOS-MUCBoston - Munich7:304.55
5LAX-TPELos Angeles - Taipei14:354.52
6JFK-SJUNew York - San Juan*3:504.51
7LAX-HNDLos Angeles - Tokyo11:404.51
8ATL-SJUAtlanta - San Juan*3:354.50
9SFO-AKLSan Francisco - Auckland12:504.49
10LAX-AKLLos Angeles - Auckland12:554.48
*US Territory

“These routes are generally operated by carriers that deliver more and better services in the cabin, even for economy class travelers,” notes passenger experience expert, Seth Miller. “Whether it is higher quality entertainment systems or better meals or just a happier crew, ultra-long-haul flying does come with some benefits compared to the shorter hops more commonly seen.”

Seasonality

Trip duration isn’t the only time-related factor, though; the time of the year flyers take off also affects reported happiness. The season most likely to see happy frequent flyers? Not the summer, those quintessential vacay-mode months when crowds peak. Rather, it’s January, when start-of-the-year optimism is at its height and crowds are low. In fact, January travelers rate their flights 39 percent higher than June travelers.

Flight Rating by Departure Season

Amenities

When it comes to flyer happiness, amenities can make or break a flight. Why? “Travelers expect certain amenities to be baked-in with their fare price. When one of those amenities fails to deliver on the expected value, traveler happiness takes a nosedive,” says travel expert, Lee Abbamonte.

So how do amenities such as seat comfort, cabin service, food/beverage, entertainment and Wi-Fi affect a traveler’s overall rating for a given flight? TripIt analyzed the individual importance of each amenity to the overall happiness rating.

Amenity Importance to Flight Rating

We found that amenities like high quality Wi-Fi and entertainment (which data shows travelers want) aren’t nearly as impactful as comfortable seating or good cabin service. In fact, seat comfort is 6X more important to flyers than Wi-Fi, while good cabin service is 2.7X more important than quality food and beverage.

Ticket Types

Let’s talk fares. When we looked at the results of ratings in respect to cabins and classes, it came as no surprise that first class ranked the highest. Lie-flat seats, one-of-a-kind amenity kits, designer pajamas—what’s not to be happy about?

What did surprise us, however, is that travelers flying basic economy were happier with their flight (score of 4.35) than those flying regular economy (4.24). Even more surprising was that reported happiness on discount carriers beat all other ticket types, with a score of 4.5 stars.

Flight Rating by Ticket Type

So, what’s making travelers who fly in basic economy or with discount carriers happier than those who paid a higher fare? The quality of the service received exceeds travelers’ expectations for the price.

Destination

Americans may have a reputation for super-sizing, but when it comes to domestic airports, they like to get in and out. Alternate airports make up six of the top 10 arrival airport rankings (and maybe seven with SMF, which has positioned itself as an alternative to Bay Area airports) out of the 65 US airports analyzed. Indeed, not a single major metro airport made the top 10.

Top Alternate Airport Rankings

Top 10 Domestic Arrival Airports by Flight Rating

RankCodeCityRating
1DALDallas Love, TX4.53
2HOUHouston, TX4.50
3BURBurbank, CA4.49
4OAKOakland, CA4.48
5MCIKansas City, MO4.48
6MDWChicago, IL4.47
7ONTOntario, CA4.46
8SMFSacramento, CA4.45
9SATSan Antonio, TX4.45
10PDXPortland, OR4.44

Americans may like the transactional nature of smaller, alternate airports when flying domestically, but when it comes to international airports, they prefer to be wowed. The majority of the highest-rated arrival airports are destinations unto themselves, boasting stunning architecture, innovative technology and reputations for high-quality service. Airport holiday, anyone?

Top 10 International Arrival Airports by Flight Rating

RankCodeCityCountryRating
1DOHDohaQatar4.50
2TPETaipeiTaiwan - Chiang Kai Shek4.37
3NRTTokyoJapan - Narita4.34
4AKLAucklandNew Zealand4.30
5HNDTokyoJapan - Haneda4.28
6ICNSeoulSouth Korea - Incheon International4.27
7ADLAdelaideAustralia4.27
8DXBDubaiUnited Arab Emirates4.26
9CGKJakartaIndonesia4.24
10BNEBrisbaneAustralia 4.23

Conclusion

The preconceived expectations of flyers are as personal as the travel plans they make. And all of the touch-points along the way—from departure airport to in-flight service to final destination—can make or break flyer happiness. We’ve learned that many Americans expect efficiency at their departure airport and grandeur upon arrival. Meanwhile, those travelers who booked a basic economy ticket or with discount carriers have had their expectations set—and they’re happy getting exactly what than they’ve paid for (or more).

Methodology: TripIt lets you rate your in-flight experience. To determine what makes flyers happy, TripIt analyzed more than one million flight ratings (1- to 5-star scale), submitted from June 2018 to June 2019.

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