Regulation: Given the way the airline industry is depicted these days, you’d think air travel is like being stuck in Dante’s Inferno. But a new survey shows passengers are happier than ever. Why the disconnect?

J.D. Power, a top market research company well-known for tracking customer satisfaction, released a survey last week that found “customer satisfaction with airlines has reached its highest level ever, continuing a trend that now stretches five consecutive years.”

How could that possibly be, given the United Airlines (UAL) passenger dragged off a plane, the traveler nearly hit with a stroller on an American Airlines (AAL) plane, a California family thrown off a Delta (DAL) flight, a brawl at a Spirit Airlines (SAVE) counter, and several other recent incidents?

It turns out that those horror stories are more like shark attacks than bee stings — rare events that capture a huge amount of publicity because they are rare.

That hasn’t stopped some from using these anecdotes to depict the entire industry as indifferent, if not openly hostile, to the needs of their passengers.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that the “degrading treatment” of the United passenger “is the latest example of a major U.S. airline disrespecting passengers and denying them their basic rights.”

USA Today recently asked: “Can air travel get any more miserable than it already is?” to which it answered “yes.”

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank described the industry this way: “packed cabins; tiny seats; proliferating fees for food, bags and flight changes; boarding delays; higher fares; labyrinthine contracts; and routine overbooking.”

There’s a reason for this: Democrats, and most reporters, like government regulation and think the airlines need more of it. So every time something bad happens, they use it as the latest evidence that the government should step in.

Milbank, for example, prefaced his dreary rundown by saying “this is what laissez faire looks like.” Blumenthal is pushing dozens of new regulations. An article on Bill Moyers’ site claims that “Airlines treat people like dirt because the Republicans in Congress let them.”

The J.D. Power findings directly counter this big government push — which is why they got so little attention. The survey found that actual customers are seeing “improved on-time performance, fewer lost bags, historically low bump rates and high scores for flight crews” as well as an average 8.5% cut in airfares.

That’s not to say that airlines can’t improve customer service. But if you think government bureaucrats know how to do it better than the airlines themselves, spend a day at the DMV.

Source: Investors Business Daily