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The influence of airline
service quality on passenger
satisfaction and loyalty
The case of Uganda airline industry
Makerere University Business School, Kampala, Uganda
Purpose – The general objective of this study was to examine the influence of airline service quality on passenger satisfaction and loyalty. To achieve this, the research was guided by four specific objectives to which data collection was effected mainly by interview method using fully structured questionnaires.
Design/methodology/approach – The study used random sampling technique and it covered 303 respondents on international flights using Entebbe International Airport. Data were analyzed using statistical package for social sciences 16, were w2 was used to test the hypothesis and regression analysis was performed to examine the relationships between variables. Findings – Findings indicated that the quality of pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight services had a statistically significant effect on passenger satisfaction. In addition to that, passenger satisfaction as a mediating variable also had a significant effect on passenger loyalty.
It was noted that passenger satisfaction differed from person to person as some were more interested in off board facilities, others onboard, others in the quality of food while others wanted more extra luggage. Originality/value – It was recommended that airline management should consider developing various strategies for improving service quality based on demographic characteristics of the customers such as occupation, age, gender and education level. Keywords Customer loyalty, Customer satisfaction, Airline service quality, Competitiveness, Airlines, Uganda
Paper type Research paper
The TQM Journal
Vol. 25 No. 5, 2013
r Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Nowadays the airline industry is characterized by heavy regulations which limit airlines’ room for maneuvering and accessing global markets compared to other industries which have paved ways for companies to transform into global players. This has prevented airlines from becoming truly global businesses by impeding crossborder merger and acquisition activities (Hanlon, 2007). To overcome the restrictions imposed by this nationality rule, airlines formed global alliances as a means to secure some of the benefits of a larger size and scope offer. Three major alliances namely Star Alliance, Oneworld and Sky Team now dominate the competitive landscape (Doganis, 2006). Airlines furthermore have to cope with marginal profitability (Hanlon, 2007).
Therefore the delivery of high-quality service becomes a marketing requirement among air carriers as a result of competitive pressure (Ostrowski et al., 1993). Moreover airline passengers can experience many service encounters with front-line employees as well as in-flight attendants, this is called “moment of truth”. Passengers may judge or evaluate airline service quality through a comparison between their experiences and ¨
expectations over a number of quality attributes (Gronroos, 2000) hence there is need to examine the influence of airline service quality on passenger satisfaction and loyalty because customer satisfaction holds a significant importance in corporate sector.
The airline industry in Uganda
Uganda is a landlocked country, air transport is therefore of strategic importance to the nation as it guarantees an alternative gateway to the rest of the world. It provides the most efficient and quickest transport means to Uganda and from the country to the rest of the world. The development of a safe, efficient and reliable air transport industry is thus among government’s priority programmes and Uganda’s geographical location in the heart of Africa gives Entebbe International Airport greater advantage for hub and spoke operations in especially the great lakes region (Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, 2012). Uganda’s official national carrier Uganda Airlines was liquidated in May 2001 after 24 years of operations. Attempts were made by the Ugandan Government to privatize the company, however, all interested parties which included British Airways and South African Airways pulled out leading to the carrier’s demise (Centre for Aviation, 2012). Problem statement
Excellent passenger satisfaction is one of the greatest assets for air businesses in today’s competitive environment, the on board experience is still something special for the customer, if the passenger is not satisfied with the quality of service, they will reconsider the buying decision for further flights and will probably switch to another airline (Archana and Subha, 2012). The research related to service quality and customer satisfaction in the airline industry has been growing in interest because the delivery of high service quality is essential for airlines’ survival and competitiveness (Archana and Subha, 2012). A number of studies examining the effect of airline service quality on passenger satisfaction have been carried out in other countries, for example, Archana and Subha (2012) carried out such study in India, Huang (2009) in Taiwan, Munusamy et al. (2011) Malaysia, Ahadmotlaghi and Pawar (2012) India and Mohsan et al. (2011) in Pakistan and none of such study has been carried out in Uganda’s airline industry which is a great motivation for this study.
The general objective was to examine the influence of airline service quality on passenger satisfaction and loyalty.
to analyze the effect of pre-flight service quality on passenger satisfaction;
to examine the effect of in-flight service quality on passenger satisfaction; to analyze the effect of post-flight service quality on passenger satisfaction; and to assess whether passenger satisfaction has a significant effect on passenger loyalty.
Literature review and hypotheses
The aviation sector
The aviation sector has become the most important segment in the economic development of a nation. It plays a vital role in moving people or products from one place to another, be it domestic or international, especially when the distances involved are far. In a highly competitive environment the provision of high quality services to passengers is the core competitive advantage for an airline’s profitability and sustained growth. Since the air transportation market has become more
challenging, many airlines have turned to focus on airline service quality to increase service satisfaction since service quality conditions influences a firm’s competitive advantage by retaining customer patronage and with this comes market share (Archana and Subha, 2012). Therefore delivering quality airline services to passengers is essential for airline survival, since passengers are becoming increasingly sensitive to quality.
Definitions of service quality, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty Service quality can be defined as a consumer’s overall impression of the efficiency of the organization and its services (Park et al., 2004) or as a chain of services in which the entire service delivery is divided into a series of processes (Chen and Chang, 2005). Most definitions of service quality depend on the context and therefore focus on meeting the customers’ needs and requirements and how well the service delivered matches the customers’ expectations of it. In the airline industry, service quality is composed of various interactions between customers and airlines with employees seeking to influence customers’ perceptions and the image of the carriers (Gursoy et al., 2005).
Though price is increasingly used as the primary way to attract customers; some airlines are looking more to service quality to get a competitive edge by distinguishing their products because competitors are relatively efficient in responding to price changes ( Jones and Sasser, 1995). These airlines’ competitive advantage lies in their service quality as perceived by customers (Chang and Yeh, 2002). Therefore ensuring quality service is the key for survival of all businesses/industries dealing in service offerings airlines inclusive.
Oliver (1981) defined satisfaction as “a person’s feeling of pleasure or disappointment resulting from comparing a product’s perceived performance (or outcome) in relation to his or her expectations”. While Hansemark and Albinson (2004) defined it as an overall customer attitude towards a service provider, or an emotional reaction to the difference between what customers anticipate and what they receive regarding the fulfilment of some needs, goals or desire. The definition provided by Oliver (1981) has been used for this study. Therefore it is very important to satisfy customers because nowadays most of them have exposure to a variety of information, they are more familiar with the present trends in technology, very well educated and more demanding in the products and services they require.
Customer loyalty can be defined as “a deeply held commitment to re-buy or re patronize a preferred product/service consistently in the future, thereby causing repetitive same-brand purchasing despite situational influences and marketing efforts having the potential to cause switching behavior” (Oliver, 1997). Chin (2002) stated that an attractive frequent flier program (FFP) could actually contribute to increased loyalty from the repeat business of an increased number of customers and numerous studies have revealed that customer satisfaction positively affects loyalty (Mohsan et al., 2011; Fornell, 1992; Anderson and Jacobsen, 2000). Therefore airline companies need to review and re-examine their strategies in order to sustain customer loyalty.
Effect of pre-flight service quality on passenger satisfaction In order to achieve customer satisfaction, organizations must be able to build and maintain long-lasting relationships with customers through satisfying various customer needs and demands which resultantly motivates them to continue to do business with the organization on an on -going basis (LaBarbera and Mazursky, 1983).
Therefore it is presumed that pre-flight service quality has a significant effect on passenger satisfaction, thus:
H1. Pre-flight service quality has a positive significant effect on passenger satisfaction. Effect of in-flight service quality on passenger satisfaction Ng et al. (2011) stated that in-flight services offered by flight attendants affected customer satisfaction. Airline passengers may experience many service encounters with in-flight attendants, this is called “moment of truth”. Passengers may judge or evaluate airline service quality through a comparison between their experiences and ¨
expectations, over a number of quality attributes (Gronroos, 2000) since most services are intangible. Thus because of this intangibility, most companies find it difficult to understand how customers perceive their services. Therefore in-flight attendants should focus on tangibles by communicating to the customers the features of the service being provided. Thus it is presumed that in-flight service quality has a significant effect on passenger satisfaction:
H2. In-flight service quality has a positive effect on passenger satisfaction. Effect of post-flight service quality on passenger satisfaction An after-sales service constitutes a means to uncover extra customer needs and a strategic driver for customer retention. Oliver (1997) demonstrated that extremely satisfied customers are much more likely to remain loyal to firm than those who are merely satisfied. Hence it is presumed that post-flight service quality has a significant effect on passenger satisfaction:
H3. Post-flight service quality has a positive significant effect on passenger satisfaction. Effect of passenger satisfaction on passenger loyalty
A study by Mohsan et al. (2011) revealed that customer satisfaction was positively correlated with customer loyalty. It further stressed that, there was need for airline companies to always look into the needs and demands of their customers in order to survive and compete successfully in today’s dynamic corporate environment. While Fornell (1992) found that high customer satisfaction would result in increased loyalty for the firm and that customers would be less prone to overtures from competition. Thus the underlying assumption is that passenger satisfaction is positively associated with passenger loyalty:
H4. Passenger satisfaction has a positive effect on passenger loyalty. Conceptual framework
It gives a more detailed insight on the variables that influence passenger satisfaction and loyalty in the airline industry based on pre-flight service quality, in-flight service quality and post-flight service quality. The variables were developed from the extensive review of literature related to the study (Figure 1).
Airline service quality
In-flight Service Quality
• Language skills
Post -flight Service Quality
• Frequent flyer programs
Pre-flight service quality
Quality of service is very important in ensuring customer satisfaction because frequency of bad experiences will impact a customer’s perception on the company (Munusamy et al., 2011). For example, if customers receive rude services from the same airline consistently they will be dissatisfied with the services and eventually, these customers might decide to take their businesses elsewhere. Therefore in this study, it is anticipated that pre-flight service quality (such as reliability of airline web site, discount offers, responsiveness to emergency situations like cancelled flights and baggage allowance have an influence on passenger satisfaction and loyalty). In-flight service quality
In a study by Ng et al. (2011) stated that in-flight services offered by flight attendants affected customer satisfaction. Therefore in order to develop a good customer service, the in-flight crew should put emphasis on tangible cues in order to create a strong organizational image. Hence it is suggested that in-flight services such as (safety percussions, seat comfort, quality of food, in-flight entertainment services, language skills and courtesy of in-flight crew) affect customer satisfaction. Post-flight service quality
Post-flight services like offering FFP, promptness of baggage delivery and retrieval are regarded as important factors that have an impact on establishing good relationships with customers which eventually influence satisfaction and loyalty. In order to survive and grow, airlines regardless of place of operation, have to be both internationally competitive and must continuously improve all aspects of their operations (Doganis, 2006). Research methodology
Positivist paradigm was adopted because it relies mainly on statistical and quantitative estimations to arrive at a conclusion.
Population and unit of analysis
The population was made up of 13,558 passengers based on Uganda’s international seat capacity per week by carrier for the selected airlines between 28 November 2011 and 4 December 2011 (Centre for Aviation, 2012). It comprised of international passengers who had at least travelled once in the last 12 months with the selected airlines operating at Entebbe International Airport. This meant that the participants
had a clear view about airlines’ services. These airlines included: Air Uganda, Precision air, Kenya airways, Rwanda air and Fly 540. In order to ensure fairness and accuracy of the study, airlines registered within East Africa were chosen. Compared to other regions in Africa, East Africa forms a relatively homogeneous group of countries in many respects. This homogeneity creates a favourable environment towards the emergence of an integrated air transport market. Entebbe airport was chosen because it is the one that handles international flights in Uganda.
This study adopted convenience sampling. Sampling was done by interviewing randomly selected passengers, waiting for their flights at different times of the day, on every day of the week, during the period 19 July to 15 August 2012. A structured questionnaire was used for data collection. The questionnaire was divided into five sections, the first section was about the demographic profile of respondents and second, third and fourth sections were designed to evaluate passengers’ overall experiences with the quality of services they had received from the airlines and the last was dealing with the effect of passenger satisfaction on passenger loyalty. Sample size
Krejcie and Morgan (1970) table was used in determining the sample size of a randomly chosen sample from a given finite population of 13,558 based on Uganda’s international seat capacity per week, by carrier for the selected airlines between 28 – November 2011 and 4 –December 2011 (Centre for Aviation, 2012). Krejcie and Morgan (1970) table indicates that if the study population size is 13,558, a statistically representative sample size should be 378 respondents. However, out of the 378 questionnaires that were distributed, a total of 303 questionnaires were complete and had valid responses, 75 questionnaires were incomplete hence they were removed. The number of passengers sampled per airline was based on how busy the airline was at the airport during the period 19 July to 15 August 2012.
The actual sample size of 303 respondents was valid for this study, because studies which had dealt with passengers as a unit of inquiry had relatively dealt with sample sizes ranging from 270 to 602, for example, Archana and Subha (2012) sampled 270 respondents; Munusamy et al. (2011) sampled 300 and Huang (2009) sampled 602 respondents. Also (Roscoe, 1975 in Sekaran, 2003) proposed some rules of thumb in determining sample size of which one of it stated that, “sample sizes larger than 30 and o500 are appropriate for most researchers”. It has also argued that in order to use w2, the overall number of items should be at least 50 (Kothari, 2004) hence the actual sample was fairly enough and suitable for models which were to be used in data analysis (Table I). Data collection methods
Data were collected using both primary and secondary data sources. Primary data were collected through the use of structured questionnaires which consisted of five sections on the following aspects: respondents’ profile, quality of pre-flight services, in-flight services, post-flight services and the effect of passenger satisfaction on passenger loyalty. The questions were phrased in the form of statements scored on a five-point Likert type scale, ranking from 1 “strongly disagree” to 5 “strongly agree”. The study was conducted in the departure hall of Entebbe International Airport. Questionnaires were distributed to respondents who had under taken at least one international flight in the previous 12 months with the selected airlines. Face-to-face
Carrier airline name
(total number of
seats per week) between
28/11/11 and 4/12/11
Rwanda air express
Fly 540 aviation
interviews of passengers waiting for their flights were conducted at Entebbe airport. A total of 303 sets of usable questionnaires were successfully collected yielding a response rate of 80 per cent. To reduce the refusals to participate or to answer specific questions, the researcher contacted passengers politely by explaining the purpose and contribution of the research.
Reliability and validity
Cronbach a was used to test the internal consistency for all items under respective variables. Hair et al. (2006) suggested that Cronbach’s a coefficient over 0.6 is adequate for basic research. The reliability of each construct was assessed by using Cronbach’s a measure which in the experiment was ranging from 0.645 to 0.850, indicating that the scale are internally consistent and reasonably free of measurement error. To ensure the perfection of the study tool, a pilot study was also conducted (Table II). Data analysis
Data were analyzed using statistical package for social sciences (SPSS) version 16. w2-test was used as a way of testing the hypothesis and regression analysis was performed to examine the relationships between variables. This is in line with what was used in similar empirical studies, for example, Munusamy et al. (2011) used Pearson correlation and multiple regression analysis while Mohsan et al. (2011) used Microsoft excel and SPSS 16 to analyze data. Descriptive statistics was used to provide an overview on the profile of international passengers using Entebbe International Airport. Interpretation and discussion of findings
w 2 was used in determining the relationships and significance of the variables. Testing of hypotheses was at 95 per cent level of confidence interval and results from this were
Reliability of various
Number of statements
Number of cases
used to reach the conclusions. To verify the causal relationships, regression was used for determining the correlation coefficients amongst variables:
H1. Pre-flight service quality has a positive significant effect on passenger satisfaction. In the study, respondents were asked to express their opinions on different items that measured pre-flight service quality on a five-point Likert scale that ranged from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Results showed that seven out of eight measurable indicators of pre-flight service quality had a significant effect on passenger satisfaction since they scored w2-values that were above the table value of 26.296 and also registered significant values less than the critical value of 0.05. It can therefore be concluded that pre-flight service quality has a positive significant effect on passenger satisfaction.
This is in line with findings by (Munusamy et al., 2011) whose results showed that pre-flight service quality had a positive impact on customer satisfaction. These results imply that if airline companies are to achieve a high level of customer satisfaction, they should deliver a high level of service quality, as it is normally considered an antecedent of customer satisfaction.
In addition to the w2-test, correlations of indicators of pre-flight service quality were regressed against passenger satisfaction to confirm the results got from the w2-tests. Regression results showed that there was a significant positive relationship between pre-flight service quality and passenger satisfaction. Findings also indicated that from among the measurable indicators of pre-flight service quality prompt response to emergencies (r ¼ 0.434) and reliability of airlines’ web site (r ¼ 0.429) were among the strongest contributors to passenger satisfaction compared to price charged (r ¼ 0.337) and baggage allowance (r ¼ 0.122). Results therefore implied that improvement in the quality of pre-flight services offered by airline companies would result into passenger satisfaction: H2. In-flight service quality has a positive effect on passenger satisfaction. From the respondents’ opinions, all the measurable indicators of in-flight service quality had a positive significant effect on passenger satisfaction since they all registered significant values of 0.000 that were less than the critical value of 0.05. This concurs with the findings by Ng et al. (2011) who confirmed that in-flight services offered by flight attendants affected customer satisfaction.
The findings imply that inflight services are one of the key drivers of ensuring passenger satisfaction (Table III). Additional analysis was performed were in-flight variables were cross-tabbed and regressed against passenger satisfaction in order to confirm the results got from w2-tests. Results from table below at 95 per cent confidence interval revealed that indeed in-flight service quality had a significant effect on passenger satisfaction because all significant values were 0.000 which was below the critical value 0.05 that is to say ( po0.05). This therefore confirmed that there was a significant positive relationship between in-flight service quality and passenger satisfaction. Amongst the in-flight variables, comfort and cleanliness (r ¼ 0.460), safety (r ¼ 0.400) and quality of food (r ¼ 0.397) had more impact on passenger satisfaction compared to employee appearance and crew uniforms (r ¼ 0.268) This therefore
implies that airlines should improve on their inflight services, for example, quality of food, safety measures and comfort of seats since they have higher impact on passenger satisfaction (Table IV): H3. Post-flight service quality has a positive significant effect on passenger satisfaction.
In-flight service quality variables
I feel safe when I fly with this airline
The aircraft has clean and comfortable interiors and seats.
Employees of this airline appear neat and tidy
The airline provides quality food The cabin crew of this airline is friendly and has good language skills.
The airline provides good in-flight services consistently
My in-flight experiences with this airline has exceeded my expectations
The in-flight services that this airline offers are worth what I pay for
w2-test for in-flight service
quality and passenger
Note: *Critical value at 0.05 significance ¼ 26.296
In-flight service quality variables
Regression of in-flight
service quality on
I am less worried when I fly with this airline because I feel safe when I fly with it
The aircraft has clean and comfortable interiors and seats
Employees of this airline appear neat and tidy and I like the crew uniforms
The airline provides quality food (Cuisine ) and beverages
The cabin crew of this airline are friendly and have good language skills
The airline provides good in-flight services consistently
My in-flight experiences with this airline has exceeded my expectations
Considering the in-flight services that this airline offers; they are worth what I pay for
Overall in-flight service quality
From Table V, all the three post-flight indicators registered w2-values above the table values of 26.296 and indicated significant values less than the critical value (0.000o0.05). These results indicate that the quality of post-flight services has a significant effect on passenger satisfaction. Oliver (1997) demonstrated that extremely satisfied customers were much more likely to remain loyal to firm than those who were merely satisfied. Therefore this implies that a company has to create customer relationships that deliver value beyond those provided by the core product (Table V).
Further analysis was performed to identify the causal relationship amongst these variables were by indicators of post-flight service quality were regressed on passenger satisfaction. Results indicated that there was a significant positive relationship between the quality of post-flight services and passenger satisfaction. From the indicators of post-flight services, passenger comments and concerns (r ¼ 0.503) had
more predictive power on passenger satisfaction because it had a higher correction coefficient compared to the FFP (r ¼ 0.325):
H4. Passenger satisfaction has a positive effect on passenger loyalty. Results from Table VI show that passenger satisfaction has a significant effect on passenger loyalty. This concurs with previous studies by Parasuraman et al. (1988) and Anderson and Sullivan (1993) who concluded that customer satisfaction was one of the major determinants of customer loyalty. This aspect is strengthened by Lin and Wang (2006), whose study concluded that customer satisfaction influences customer loyalty. This relationship has been investigated in previous studies for example findings by (Yang and Peterson, 2004) suggested that customer loyalty can be generated through improving customer satisfaction and offering high product/service value. Therefore delivering high quality in the airline industry should be recognized as the most effective means of ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty.
In general the study findings have coincided with other studies that the quality of airlines’ services has a significant influence on passenger satisfaction and loyalty. Findings indicated that pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight services had a significant effect on passenger satisfaction. In addition to that, passenger satisfaction as a mediating variable also had a significant effect on passenger loyalty. The study results imply that airline marketers should develop various strategies to improve service quality, for example, meeting passengers’ desired service levels, improving the quality of in-flight meals, solving service problems effectively, developing convenient reservation and ticketing systems, making convenient schedules for passengers and reducing the effect of service failures as these directly affect passenger satisfaction and loyalty. Implications of the results to the various stakeholders
Managerial implications to the airline companies
The results of this study highlight to management that safety and security are the most important in-flight service quality dimensions in international air travel as perceived w2
Post-flight service quality variables
The airline has a sound loyalty programme to recognize you as a frequent customer
This airline has efficient baggage handling
My concerns are highly valued by this airline
Note: *Critical value at 0.05 significance ¼ 26.296
Passenger satisfaction variables
In comparison to other airlines, am satisfied with the airline’ services
Am satisfied with this airline’s personnel
This airline values customers’ comments
w2-test results for
post-flight services and
w2-test results for
and passenger loyalty
by airline passengers. This may be as a result of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the Iraq War and the constant threat of terrorism. To address the public’s growing concern about air travel safety, airlines should be receptive to consumer input. Airlines should inform the public of their continuous drive to provide a safer flying environment and should publicize the security improvements of the international air travel industry to boost consumer confidence.
Government policy makers
Government should reduce on the ill-conceived policy initiatives that over-regulate and excessively charge high taxes from airline companies as this limits airlines registered within East Africa from competing effectively with other airlines from other nations due to economic hardships. This prevents aviation from being the catalyst for economic growth. Based on the study findings, the effect of airline service quality on passenger satisfaction and loyalty imply that a company with good airline services is more likely to stand out in the market place because it draws both repeat customers and trial users Therefore airline companies should strive to be consistent with the quality of services they offer to their passengers.
Customers have to be actively involved in the service process to ensure their satisfaction and commitment (loyalty) in the long run. The coordination of the different airline service components, as well as their incorporation in a clear and integrated communication strategy further supports the creation of a harmonious brand image in customers’ minds, which is the basis for the development of relationships between customers and the airline and, this could result into the development of true customer loyalty. Airline companies should strive for value creation and appropriate allocation of resources in international air travel by creating more realistic consumers’ expectations about the promises that airlines make as this may increase the level of passenger satisfaction, for example, through meeting customers’ desired service levels, dealing effectively with dissatisfied customers and confronting customer complaints positively. This will enable management to differentiate their brand from other airlines in terms of service quality.
Suggested areas for further research
This study was limited in the context of airline services for international passengers. Domestic passengers’ opinions on the influence of airline service quality on passenger satisfaction and loyalty might be different from that of international passengers. Hence, an empirical examination needs to be undertaken in order to assess how domestic passengers’ opinions are different from that of international passengers. The airline industry is subject to strict controls and tight regulation requirements in the provision of services resulting from an increase in customer involvement and continuing demand for more security regulations on the part of airlines. This may affect the quality of airline services and later passenger satisfaction and loyalty, therefore further research into airline travel should consider the impact of airline regulations and controls on passenger satisfaction and loyalty. References
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Zeithaml, V.A. and Bitner, M.J. (1996), Services Marketing, Tata McGraw Hill, New Delhi. Corresponding author
Juliet Namukasa can be contacted at: [email protected]
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