Smooth-flying Continental trounces airline competition, says Forrester Research
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Continental rises above a crowded field by offering quick online buying and simple reservation cancellation. So says Forrester PowerRankings Airlines, which combined survey data from online consumers to provide objective rankings of the leading eCommerce sites.

Continental’s greatest weakness was inconsistent email response times, but it does allow shoppers to choose their seats and meals, and book rental cars and hotel rooms.

Northwest came in a distant second, offering a feature-rich site and speedy replies to email inquiries, but frustrates shoppers with its separate navigation and search engines, and it doesn’t let customers cancel reservations online. Following Continental are Northwest, American, Alaska, Southwest, United, US Airways, and Delta.

“Once again, Continental wins the PowerRankings Airlines category. But this time it broke away from the competition,” said Tom Rhinelander, senior analyst at Forrester. “Continental beats the competition at delivering what online travel shoppers are looking for – a site with a simple and quick way to purchase tickets, relevant travel content, and good customer service.”

Third-place American offers a home page with a calendar that, when clicked on, automatically fills in flight dates, and its customer service was quick to reply to email questions. However, the site suffered from server errors and a laborious checkout process.

Southwest came in fourth, offering bare-bones online shopping. The site lacks a search engine, flight status information, and email support. But cost-conscious travellers flying to locations served by Southwest may not mind, given the fast buying process, low prices, and near-instant answering of phone calls.

“Southwest’s site matches the airline perfectly,” added Rhinelander. “Customers may not get flight status information on the site, or a meal other than peanuts on the plane, but they do get a fast and functional site and inexpensive fares.”

Alaska Airlines came in fifth, offering speedy ticket buying, but its customer service is slow and the site has no terminal maps, nor integrated car and hotel booking. Landing in sixth place, United does a useful search, but lacks helpful customer service. An arduous online buying process and server errors left US Airways in seventh place, while last-place Delta was criticized for inconsistent navigation and server errors.

For the updated PowerRankings, Forrester surveyed 19,000 consumers from Greenfield Online’s 600,000-person online panel. These consumers identified the most recent eCommerce sites that they purchased from and rated their experiences. A team of Forrester shoppers then evaluated the shopping experience for sites with a statistically valid number of consumer respondents, performing a series of rigorous tests in six areas. The consumer data and Forrester shopper scores were then synthesized and weighted, with consumer views accounting for two-thirds of the overall PowerRanking.

Established in 1983, Forrester is headquartered in Cambridge, Massechussetts. Forrester’s European Research Center is in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and its UK Research Centre is in London.



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