Does the air cargo industry take bad service for granted?

Air Cargo customers are generally satisfied with the service they receive from their airlines and airports, even when they receive bad service, report finds. While some companies are highly rated, all companies have room to improve the quality of their offering.

In late 2018, we surveyed approximately 1,900 air cargo customers from more than 80 countries on their level of satisfaction with the service they receive from each of the top three airlines and airports they do business with. The Air Cargo Excellence (ACE) Survey has been conducted annually since 2005 and forms the basis for the Air Cargo World Air Cargo Excellence Awards, which are presented during the following April. A detailed analysis of this rich data has been brought together in the 2019 Air Cargo Customer Experience Report, which was published this week by Cargo Facts Consulting (CFC). About 40% of respondents were freight forwarders and 20% were airlines.

In addition to the qualitative assessment of their airlines, freight forwarders provided quantitative information on the kind of service they are currently receiving with regard to advance booking, cut off and recovery times, notification of exceptions, and how long they need to wait for compensation when things do not go as planned. The services received range from good to levels that would be considered unacceptable in other industries:

  • Access to capacity: most carriers require no more than one to two days’ advance booking time to access space.
  • Pre-flight cut off and post-flight recovery: only about 20% of carriers offer cut off times of less than two hours and 27% offer recovery times of within two hours.
  • Notification of exceptions: respondents indicated that only 12% of the airlines they use offer real-time updates and notifications, and in 27% of cases, customers received no notification at all.
  • Time to pay compensation: when commitments are not met 17% of airlines settle within a week but most airlines require at least a month to remit compensation.

Surprisingly, 85% of respondents said that the quality of customer service received from their carriers was either good or very good. Even though 27% of respondents said that they receive no notification of exceptions, 84% of airlines ranked track-and-trace capabilities as good or very good.

Improvement suggestions also focused more on access to capacity and competitive rates followed by flight schedules and the network offered by their airlines. It seems that other key quantitative metrics are taken for granted.

Customers appear to be less satisfied with their airports than with their airlines. Nevertheless, over 70% of respondents rated airport customer service and handling of exceptions as either good or very good. However, common complaints include the quality of cargo handling, lack of warehouse space, customer service, slots and inefficiencies related to ground access, and other infrastructure.

The 2019 Air Cargo Customer Experience Report can be purchased via and is complemented by a downloadable spreadsheet that allows users to run their own queries to rank carriers and airports on different service criteria.

Frederic Horst is Managing Director of Cargo Facts Consulting. If you have questions about the report or data, click here to contact him.

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Frederic Horst

Frederic Horst is the Managing Director of Cargo Facts Consulting, having joined the firm in March 2019. He has 18 years of strategy, planning, commercial, operational and government experience across the air cargo, express, aviation and transportation infrastructure business. He has held senior positions with Air Bridge Cargo, Air Cargo Germany, DHL Aviation and Cargolux, as well as the State Government in New South Wales. Frederic has a wide range of experience including fleet and network planning, route development, regulatory affairs and traffic rights, revenue management, market forecasting, set up of new transportation related ventures, products and services, development of business cases and investment program management. He has a broad understanding of all parts of the transportation and infrastructure business, including air, sea, road, rail and pipelines. Frederic has a Master of Transport Management from the University of Sydney, where he also taught an international air and sea freight transportation economics course for 10 years. ​Frederic is married, with three children and lives in Trier, Germany. He enjoys kayaking, swimming, cycling, and has a soft spot for aviation museums.