Participants in the study by Engine Service Design, which surveyed 1,025 adults online last month, were asked to name the three sectors from a list of 14 with the worst service.
In last year’s survey, air travel was named by only 12.8% of respondents – with only hotels and hospitality (8.8%) and technology (12.4%) on lower numbers.
But the sector now features among the top three for 17.1% of respondents, up 4.3 percentage points year on year and the steepest decline, suggesting it has done more than any other industry to damage its reputation in the last year.
High-profile incidents the public perceived as poorly dealt with by airlines are likely to have contributed to this, Engine’s co-founder Joe Heapy said.
He said: "British Airways’ IT meltdown and the United Airlines’ passenger incident were the most high-profile examples in an industry that seems to be struggling to look after its customers.
"However, it wasn’t just that the incidents were bad, arguably it was their response that caused as much anger, particularly in BA’s case. In an era of rampant cost-cutting, their actions and reactions can give the impression that people are more akin to cargo than passengers."
The next biggest increases in respondents naming them among the three worst offenders were broadband and media, up 3.3 points to 33.5%, and insurance, up 2.9 points to 27.9%.
The biggest improvements, meanwhile, came for public services, down 4.3 percentage points to 27.9%, and retail, down 2.3 percentage points to 15.2%.
The overall worst rated sector was public transport and trains, named among the worst three by 38.1%, despite a marginal 0.2 percentage point improvement. It was followed by utilities, up 1.2 percentage points to 36.9%.
Heapy added: "The leading sectors and companies in customer service don’t think of it as an add-on at the front line, they put as much effort into designing the customer experience as they do their actual products."