Turbulent Times for Airlines

High ticket prices, overbooked flights and extra fees have consumers finding the skies to be, well, not so friendly, two separate studies have shown.

Customer satisfaction with airlines has fallen to its lowest level since 2001, according to the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) study.

To passengers’ displeasure, airlines are often coping with the soaring cost of refined jet fuel, which has tripled since 2000, by raising ticket prices, overbooking flights, charging passengers for extra bags and charging more for premium seats.

Two airlines’ ratings took noteworthy falls: Continental Airlines dropped 10% to 62 on ACSI’s 100-point scale, and US Airways Group plummeted 12% to 54.

"Passenger satisfaction is dismal, and things probably won’t get any better if airlines continue to charge more for less," said Claes Fornell, founder of the ACSI.

Overall customer satisfaction—encompassing all industries and companies—increased 0.4% to 75.2, reversing a year of declining scores. ACSI said the slight jump might boost consumer spending and jumpstart the economy, but other conditions must be ripe for a recovery.

The ACSI is an ongoing survey conducted by the National Quality Research Center at the University of Michigan in conjunction with ASQ and the CFI Group, an Ann Arbor, MI, consultancy. For a complete list of measured companies and scores, visit www.theacsi.org.

More low ratings for airlines

Meanwhile, the airline industry has hit more turbulence in the form of another recent study related to airline quality.

Researchers found that more bags were lost, more passengers were bumped from flights, more consumers complained, and fewer flights arrived on-time than in the previous year of the Airline Quality Rating survey.

The overall quality score the researchers gave the industry (-2.16) was the lowest in the nearly two decades they’ve been studying the airlines, the Associated Press reported.

Low-cost carriers AirTran, Jet Blue and Southwest received top marks. Comair, American Eagle and Atlantic Southeast Airlines were ranked lowest.

The annual Airline Quality Rating study is based on Transportation Department statistics for airlines that carry at least 1% of the passengers who flew domestically in the past year. To view the study, visit www.aqr.aero.


Emergency Plans Lack Certification Standard

The majority of U.S. companies have a formal, written plan for emergency preparedness, according to a recent report from the Conference Board. But a survey of 302 senior corporate executives revealed that a widely adopted certification standard for such plans does not yet exist.

A voluntary certification process for preparedness was adopted as part of the 2007 homeland security legislation. The choice of standards that would permit certification under the law is currently under review.

The most common standard is the ISO 27001/17799 information security standard, which has been implemented by 23% of the surveyed companies. Following close behind at 20% is NFPA 1600, which was endorsed as the national preparedness standard in 2004 by the Department of Homeland Security, Congress, the 9/11 Commission and the American National Standards Institute. Three other kinds of standards have been implemented by 12% of companies.

The survey revealed that larger companies are more likely to have implemented the ISO and NFPA standard and are more likely to conduct regular risk assessments than their smaller counterparts.

Further details on the report can be found at www.conference-board.org/utilities/pressdetail.cfm?

Who’s Who in Q

Name: Bernard "Buzz" Watkins.

Residence: Douglas, GA.

Education: Associate’s degree in materials evaluation and nondestructive testing, Chippewa Valley Technical College, Eau Claire, WI.

First job related to quality: His first job after being discharged from the military in 1972 was for National Presto Industries in Eau Claire. Watkins worked as a line inspector for this defense contractor, which made 105-mm shell casings for the howitzers being used in Vietnam at the time. Later, Watkins went to technical college to study dimensional inspection and nondestructive testing.

Previous job worth noting: Watkins was a bass player in a rock ’n’ roll band in the 1970s.

ASQ activities: He is a senior member, a certified quality engineer and quality auditor, and RAB lead auditor. Watkins is also an exam proctor and certification chair for Section 1533 in Valdosta, GA.

Other activities: He is the former editor of the Journal of the Watkins Family History Society, a quarterly magazine, and co-publisher of the society’s websites.

Personal: Married 35 years to Jeanne. Three children and six grandchildren.

Favorite ways to relax: Woodworking, golf, fishing and billiards.

Quality quote: Facts are facts. Eventually, we will need to face them for what they are.

Date In Quality History

July 15, 1848

QP looks back on an event or person that made a difference in the history of quality.

Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto was born. The Italian engineer, economist and philosopher is the namesake of the Pareto principle developed by Joseph M. Juran. The principle is also known as the 80-20 rule, the law of the vital few, the principle of imbalance and the principle of factor sparsity.

The observation was first made in connection with income and wealth. Pareto noticed that 80% of Italy’s wealth was owned by 20% of the population. Juran expanded on Pareto’s observation to say that, for many events, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Quick Poll Results

Each month at www.qualityprogress.com, visitors can take a short, informal survey, and we post the results. Here are the numbers from a recent Quick Poll:

"Which method of measuring customer satisfaction is the most effective?"

  1. Online surveys: 31.9%
  2. Focus groups: 31.9%
  3. Paper surveys: 18%
  4. Phone surveys: 13.8%
  5. Other: 4.1%

Visit www.qualityprogress.com to answer the most recent Quick Poll question posted:

"Which quality myth is hardest to disprove to management?"

  1. Quality is strictly about product or service issues.
  2. Quality is about controlling risk.
  3. Choosing a quality approach is a task only for senior leaders.
  4. Quality is a discipline learned on the job, not in a classroom.

Short Runs

THE INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATION for Standardization (ISO) has published a new electronic version of Selection and Use of the ISO 9000 Family of Standards. The free e-brochure includes an overview of the core standards, a step-by-step process to implement a quality management system and examples of typical applications of the documents. Visit www.iso.org/iso/iso_catalog/management_standards/iso_9000_iso_14000/
to access the brochure.

THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF STANDARDS and Technology (NIST) has issued a new American version of the English language SI Brochure, the international standard reference guide to the modern metric system. NIST is the U.S. technical representative to the International Bureau of Weights and Measures, which defines the SI ("international system" in French) and coordinates the federal government’s policy on the conversion to SI by federal agencies.

WORLD QUALITY DAY is scheduled for Nov. 13 in conjunction with European Quality Week and the Chartered Quality Institute’s World Quality Conference. The day is intended to raise awareness on how quality can have a tangible effect on business. For more information, visit www.worldqualityday.org.

RABQSA HAS LAUNCHED the updated requirements for its AS9100 and AS9110 auditor certification schemes. The certification requirements have been updated to reflect the international aerospace auditor and training provider requirements of the AS9104/3 standard. For more information on the AS9100 and AS9110 certification schemes, visit www.rabqsa.com.

THE AMERICAN STATISTICAL ASSOCIATION has elected Sastry G. Pantula as president-elect for 2009. Pantula is the head of North Carolina State University’s statistics department and director of the Institute of Statistics.


ASQ, Feds Follow Up on Hospital Ruling

Officials from the federal Office of Human Research Protections (OHRP) recently met with ASQ officials to discuss when certain OHRP policies might apply to healthcare quality improvement activities.

The meeting follows a controversial ruling—and its reversal—on a quality improvement effort at hospitals in Michigan that was halted because of the way the research was classified. Certain classifications of medical programs and research trigger safeguards to protect patients that require different review and approval.

ASQ offered OHRP a set of guidelines that classify healthcare quality improvement and process improvement activities according to the degree of risk they pose to patients. ASQ suggested these criteria should help officials decide how to classify the activities.

"We are pleased that OHRP is open to engaging in dialogue on this difficult subject, where there are many gray areas," said Mike Nichols, chairman of ASQ’s board of directors.

"ASQ and its Healthcare Division believe our input will help OHRP in its challenging task of applying its regulations to protect patients while not impeding quality improvement activities," he said.



The number of school districts being benchmarked and studied on their data-driven decision making by APQC, formerly the American Productivity and Quality Center.

The study will identify how districts are constructing and using longitudinal data systems to improve student achievement.

The participating districts are from 25 states and include the five largest districts in the United States: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami-Dade (Florida) and Clark County (Las Vegas).

Other participants include midsized and smaller districts such as Community Consolidated School District 15 in Palatine, IL, and Jenks Public Schools in Jenks, OK, both of which are recipients of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

The research, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will begin with the collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative data from districts to provide comparison reports against peers, exemplary districts and districts with similar enrollments or demographics. The data will be analyzed using APQC’s Process Comparison Framework, a common process taxonomy.

ASQ News

Caterpillar Inc., Baxter International and Honeywell International have become ASQ enterprise members, joining 10 other companies at this level of membership. For more information about becoming an enterprise member (formerly known as organizational member), visit www.asq.org/enterprise.

For the second year in a row, ASQ has received the mastery level of the Wisconsin Forward Award. The Forward Award, the state’s highest quality award, is based on the Baldrige criteria and promotes excellence in organizational management. The awards ceremony will be held this month.

More than 60 ASQ fellows have now volunteered to mentor other ASQ members. The network was established in 2005 to help members develop their careers. If you’re interested in participating as a protégé, you must be an ASQ student, associate, fellow, or regular or senior member. A list of the mentors is available at www.asq.org/members/communities/mentoring/index.html and includes each person’s areas of expertise.

Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner, will speak at an ASQ event Sept. 29 in Milwaukee. Yunus is one of the developers of a banking practice called microlending, which granted millions of dollars in small loans to poor people with no collateral and produced economic and social benefits. The event is part of ASQ’s initiative to promote social responsibility.

The revised auditing standard QE19011S-2008—he U.S. supplemental version of ISO 19011—is now available. The ISO version of the standard was written mainly for third-party registration users. The U.S. supplemental version (the same full text as the ISO version) was developed to help users apply the standard to their own internal auditing and supplier auditing practices. For more information, visit www.asq.org/quality-press.

The way a member is nominated as a fellow member has changed. Notably, all nominations must include two endorsing signatures from a senior, fellow or honorary member. Nominations received after July 1 will be evaluated with the new policy. Forms are available at www.asq.org/about-asq/how-we-do/pdf/g-02-02-fellow-nomination-form.pdf.

The American Productivity and Quality Center recently awarded its inaugural C. Jackson Grayson Distinguished Quality Pioneer Medals at ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement. The medals recognize quality leaders in nontraditional areas such as healthcare, government and education. Recipients included: Jerry Weast, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Rockville, MD; Don Berwick, president and CEO of the Institute for Health Improvement; Blanton Godfrey, dean of the College of Textiles, North Carolina State University; and Al Gore, former U.S. vice president and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

ASQ has launched a network focused on the challenges that minorities in the quality profession face. The network hopes to connect ASQ members and facilitate the exchange of ideas. Visit www.asq.org/communities/minorities-in-quality/index.html for more information about the free network.

The Flemish Society for Quality (FSQ) has become a member of ASQ’s World Partner Program. FSQ joins 15 other nonprofit organizations that partner with ASQ to promote quality and provide networking opportunities.


Banks Get Mixed Customer Reviews

Recent surveys ranking the service customers get at banks and how satisfied they are seem to contradict one another.

A retail banking study published by J.D. Power and Associates showed overall satisfaction dropped 26 index points on a 1,000-point scale to 737 in 2008. Poor problem resolution, long wait times and additional fees contributed to the decline.

"Many retail banks are experiencing a decline in their brand image, especially in the current economic climate, where many consumers hold banks responsible for the current housing and mortgage crisis," Rockwell Clancy, executive director of financial services at J.D. Power, said in a press release. "With customers experiencing more problems, longer wait times and more fees, that negative view is intensified."

Meanwhile, an unrelated ASQ/Harris Interactive poll reported that customers rank service at banks as above average, but with room for improvement. The survey found:

  • 96% of bank customers rated the customer service at their banks as above average or average.
  • 85% were very satisfied or satisfied with the products and services.
  • 89% said they felt that it’s easy to open a new account.
  • 27% experienced problems with their account in the last year.
  • 68% of those who had problems were satisfied with the resolution process.

Also contrary to the J.D. Power study, the American Customer Satisfaction Index, produced in a partnership with ASQ, reported that banks have either maintained or gained in customer satisfaction each year since 1999. The industry is at an all-time high of 78 on a 100-point scale.

"It’s likely that most Americans are receiving excellent customer service from their financial institutions because of the quality processes they have put in place to measure and improve customer satisfaction," said Mike Nichols, chairman of ASQ’s board of directors.


EC Suggests ‘Safety Marks’ on Products

Are European shoppers getting the right amount of information on the safety of things they’re buying? Could additional "consumer safety marks" on products help consumers make more informed decisions?

Those are the types of questions the European Commission posed to consumers, businesses and other authorities in a survey that wrapped up in June. The survey comes in the wake of last year’s massive recalls and discussions over consumers’ awareness about product safety issues.

Following analysis of the survey, the commission plans to make its formal recommendation in September.

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