Dallas-based Southwest was ranked No. 2 of the 11 airlines listed, behind JetBlue Airways, in the survey conducted by J.D. Power and Associates. Both airlines have business models that emphasize customer service as well as low fares.
The carrier receiving the worst marks was Northwest Airlines.
"What we're seeing in low-cost carriers like JetBlue and Southwest is that airlines offering a consistent travel experience, and that listen to what's most important to passengers, are proving to be very successful," said Linda Hirneise, J.D. Power's director of travel industry research.
It was the first time since 2000 that J.D. Power, a marketing research firm, has looked at the airline industry.
Ed Stewart, a spokesman for Southwest, said he was pleased with the high marks but suggested that his airline should have topped the list.
"I think if you asked our customers, we'd be ahead of JetBlue," he said.
Fort Worth-based American ranked No. 7. The airline, which is the world's largest, has been struggling in recent months to improve its customer service.
Last year, the carrier held brainstorming sessions with customer-service employees and identified ways to improve the flight experience.
"We rely on the extensive customer surveys that we do throughout the year," spokesman Tim Wagner said. "Through these surveys, we've been seeing improvements in our performance in a lot of areas, including customer satisfaction."
According to the survey, customers valued the ease of making a reservation the most, followed by the friendliness of the reservations staff and crew members. They also appreciated easy check-in and well-dressed employees.
The biggest complaints were with limited legroom and overall amenities, the condition of the airplane's seat, late baggage retrieval and a lack of in-flight updates on weather conditions and delays.
The new survey ranks airlines according to overall customer satisfaction. The rankings are:
1. JetBlue Airways
2. Southwest Airlines
3. Delta Air Lines
4. Alaska Airlines
5. AirTran Airways
6. Continental Airlines
7. American Airlines
8. U.S. Airways
9. United Airlines
10. America West Airlines
11. Northwest Airlines