Americans Rank Airlines Lower Than the IRS

VIDEO: Pilots offensive rant from inside cockpit unknowingly broadcast.
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Remember last month's obscene, sexist and homophobic-laced rant by the Southwest pilot who didn't know his mike was on? That was one creepy audio tape, though I liked the part at the end where other pilots keep breaking in to tell air traffic control, hey, it's not us.

The best line was delivered by an unknown SkyWest pilot who drawled, "And they wonder why airline pilots have a bad reputation." I'm not sure that's true, but I can tell you who does have a bad reputation: try the entire airline industry.

Here's a shocker: Airline passengers hate the airlines. OK, maybe "hate" is a bit strong, but according to the new American Customer Satisfaction Index, people sure are dissatisfied. In case you're wondering, the respected ACSI conducts 70,000 interviews a year on a variety of firms and brands and creates rankings by company and industry.

Overall, the U.S. airline industry scored a 65. That's lower than the satisfaction score for Domino's Pizza. Lower than the Post Office. Lower than the IRS. Well, lower for electronic tax filers, anyway, according to the most recent government rankings. But you see my point.

Hang on, it gets worse.

For more travel news and insights view Rick's blog at farecompare.com

What's worse is airline customer service, what's left of it, anyway. It used to be such a big deal for the airlines, especially back in the days before deregulation when customer service was how carriers sought to differentiate their brands (recall that notorious National Airlines campaign: "I'm Cheryl. Fly Me.").

Fortunately, flight attendants in hot pants have gone the way of dinosaurs; unfortunately, so have all the basics of customer service, like free meals in coach and free checked-bags. In 2010 alone, bag fees plus reservation change fees earned U.S. airlines close to $6 billion and they're not done yet, either; Spirit Airlines just added a $5 boarding pass fee for those who fail to print it out at home, but as the first U.S. airline to impose a carryon bag fee, nothing they do surprises me anymore.

More customer service horror stories: in June, US Airways said "no" to flying a young man in droopy pants (he was allegedly asked to pull up his pants and didn't comply, or didn't comply quickly enough). Now I would not have worn such pants, but then again, Giorgio Armani never calls on me for fashion advice (nor do the clothing designers at Wal-Mart).

However, even I was dumbstruck when I saw another US Airways passenger who was allowed to fly while clad in (according to a photo) revealing bikini panties and a scanty, midriff-baring top. Did I mention this was a male passenger?

Had enough weird stories? Just one more, and this one breaks my heart: A Frontier Airlines pilot had a 24-year-old quadriplegic man removed from a flight because of some sort of safety concerns about how the passenger was strapped into his seat. The young man, who was traveling with his family, had flown the same airline just a few days earlier with no problems. By the way, many of the passengers seated near this man protested his removal, to no avail. Frontier says it is investigating.

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