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Home for the holidays: How airline reputation faired in 2021

Corporate Reputation14 Dec, 2021

Amid the swirling chaos of travel restrictions and vaccine hesitancy and demands, air travel became a peculiar stage to act out our frustrations and anxieties. The flights are nonstop and so is our corporate reputation tracking software, so we took to the friendly skies for a closer look at how airline reputation faired from 2020 – 2021.

Usually, we’d gate data this good… but it’s the holiday season and holiday travel is in session,  we’re feeling generous – so consider it a gift! To: you. Love, RepTrak.

A return to cruising altitude

RepTrak’s proprietary reputation tracking software is always on, continuously analyzing millions of perception and sentiment data points from online surveys, media outlets, and third-party sources. To better understand their reputation journey, we looked at data from 6 major US airlines.

As part of our 360° approach to reputation analysis, we measure 7 Key Drivers of reputation: Products/Services, Performance, Workplace, Leadership, Conduct (formerly Governance), Citizenship, and Innovation.

From April 2020 to October 2020, we saw a drop in all Drivers. But through Summer 2021, we’re seeing an approach towards pre-COVID levels. Performance, in particular, had a notable drop from a Strong score of 70.6 in April 2020 to an Average 64.9 in Oct 2020. In August 2021, the score has increased to 69.7.


Peak performance

Zooming in on Performance, we observe a score increase of +4.8 pts in Oct 2020 to 69.7 in Aug 2021. Reputation never rests, these Performance driver scores directly reflect market events.


Source: RepTrak CRT Data, April 2020 – August 2021 Sources: *The Guardian **The Washington Post ***The Financial Times ****CRT Current Issues question (US) Mar 2021

And when we zoom in even further, we see how individual factors impact Performance as a whole.


Three out of four major US carriers reported a profit in Q2 2021 (The Financial Times). While the Delta variant and up-and-coming Omicron variant have airlines and travelers wary, the financial optimism about the future of the US Airline industry seems to be driving both Performance and broader airline reputation.

Friendly skies — for everyone

Reputation is not just bound by business performance (see previously mentioned drivers).

In addition to our Key Driver-supported reputation metrics, RepTrak also tracks ESG (Environmental – Social – Governance) analytics to reflect public perception of performance against 17 factors, including considerations like sustainability, talent management, diversity, and ethical governance.

RepTrak data reveals Consumers are significantly more likely to purchase from a company with a high ESG score. In fact, ESG is the most powerful indicator in determining whether or not the public is willing to trust a company and give it the benefit of the doubt.

Further, 63% prefer to buy goods and services from companies that “stand for a purpose that reflects their values and beliefs” and will avoid those who do not.

In a recent ESG-related study, RepTrak investigated perceived corporate attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people. Transportation ranked #5 – a unique standing behind much more public-facing and integrated industries.

Top Performing Industries in the US on perceived attitudes to LGBTQ+ people
airline 4

We hope this means that travelers, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, can rest easy when taking to the skies. However, it is important to acknowledge that air travel can be especially difficult for transgender folks, particularly when navigating TSA. Airlines should take extra care to support transgender travelers whenever possible.


Since the onslaught of COVID, airlines have been centerstage – a barometer for broader fluctuating restrictions and personal interpretations. But we’re seeing a return to pre-COVID reputation sentiment as we adjust to the “new normal.” And with RepTrak software always on, we’ll be monitoring whatever comes next.

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