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Airline service quality: Lufthansa well aligned across the group

12-Oct-2010

Once upon a time the name Lufthansa referred to an airline. While that is still largely true, the Lufthansa Group now encompasses a collection of airlines in which the German parent has complete or partial ownership. Long known for its precision and attention to detail, how do its daughter companies compare when rated by passengers?

This is the fourth in a series examining customer service as revealed by passenger reviews on Skytrax. For full methodology and explanations please click on Airline service quality.

Lufthansa’s holdings include its regional partners CityLine (100%), Air Dolomiti (100%) and Eurowings (49.8%). Despite their “separate” status, they operate segments of Lufthansa’s network and are perceived by passengers as being Lufthansa.

However, in terms of other brands, LH owns 100% of Swiss, Austrian, BMI and Germanwings. It holds a 45% stake in Brussels Airlines with the option to accrue more. Additional holdings are 15.6% of JetBlue in the US, a 50/50 partnership with Turkish Airlines in SunExpress and a 14.4% chunk of Luxair.

This report will focus on Lufthansa and its four major European partners, Swiss, Austrian, BMI and Brussels. Germanwings could not be included as there were too few reviews to make the comparisons equal.

Among the five, three are given four stars by Skytrax, LH, LX, OS, with BMI and SN rating a three star ranking.

Lufthansa

Lufthansa 4*

Points

Nat

Class

Food

Svc

Grnd

Cft

Val

3

SG

Y

B

B

B

B

 

9

UK

C

G

 

G

G

X

5

JO

C

     

B

 

7

UK

C

G

G

B

M

X

8

UK

C

G

M

M

B

 

9

FI

Y

 

G

G

G

X

7

US

C

G

G

B

M

 

2

US

C

B

B

 

B

X

2

FI

Y

   

M

   

8

DE

Y

 

M

B

G

X

10

UK

Y

   

G

G

X

5

US

Y

 

M

 

G

 

8

UK

Y

   

G

 

X

7

BE

C

M

M

 

G

X

7

IE

Y

G

G

G

G

X

8

FI

Y

G

G

G

G

X

8

UK

C

G

G

M

M

X

6

MY

Y

G

G

G

G

X

5

BE

Y

M

G

 

B

 

2

AU

F

M

M

B

B

 

9

DE

F

G

G

 

M

X

8

NL

Y

M

G

M

 

X

6

PO

Y

G

G

 

M

X

2

AU

Y

 

B

B

B

 

6

SE

Y

B

B

 

B

 

6.28

           

15

The parent company is generally well-regarded by its customers. On its longhaul services, the present weak link is the 747 fleet, which takes knocks because of its age and lack of modern IFE in the main cabin. The aircraft were seen to be well maintained but dated in terms of many features that have been incorporated into the newer aircraft.

One recurring criticism was the size of the Business Class sections relative to staff available. Especially on the A380, the ratio of staff to passengers was seen as low.

On European routes, Business Class was assessed as being of marginal value due to the seat pitch that was the same throughout the aircraft, but with the center seat left empty in C. This was a recurrent theme for all the airlines; that the extravagant amenities that separate Business from economy over long sectors are very much diminished on single-aisle airplanes.

This is an ongoing conundrum for European carriers who have found that dedicated cabins don’t work but that a modified economy is not deemed to present an acceptable value proposition.

There were also quite a few comments related to Frankfurt airport and its complex layout and penchant for delays. Munich fared somewhat better. There were also far more references to lounges than we have seen in other assessments, meaning that the lounge experience is a larger part of the total journey when shorter distances are flown.

Despite the comments on FRA, 60% of the reviewers said that there was value in the purchase—a number equal to that for the Gulf carriers who are trying to capture passengers currently using European hubs.

Swiss International

Swiss 4*

Points

Nat

Class

Food

Svc

Grnd

Cft

Val

9

AT

C

G

G

G

G

X

8

UK

C

G

G

B

G

X

8

UK

Y

G

G

 

G

X

6

UK

C

G

G

B

G

X

8

UK

C

G

G

M

G

X

9

NL

Y

G

G

 

G

X

0

CH

Y

   

B

   

8

UK

C

G

G

B

G

X

0

UK

Y

   

B

   

8

CH

C

G

G

 

G

X

9

DE

Y

G

G

G

G

X

8

UK

Y

G

G

G

G

X

7

AU

C

G

G

G

G

X

9

UK

C

G

G

G

G

X

0

UK

Y

B

B

B

B

 

8

CH

Y

G

G

G

 

X

9

CH

Y

G

G

B

G

X

2

BE

Y

B

B

B

B

 

5

CH

Y

G

M

   

X

7

UK

Y

G

G

 

G

X

4

DE

C

       

X

8

FR

C

G

G

G

G

X

4

UK

C

M

G

B

G

 

7

NL

C

M

G

M

G

X

4

FR

C

B

B

     

6.2

           

19

Passengers flying on LX, successor to Lufthansa’s former rival, Swissair, report astonishingly similar experiences and the average ranking scores are almost identical to those of Lufthansa. A slightly higher number of posters felt that they got value for their travel money--perhaps because the Swiss hub airport is smaller and less congested, and the Swiss fleet is more homogeneous.

The original angled Business Class seats got somewhat negative reviews but the newer version, introduced with the A333 and being retrofitted on the A340s, is seen as a necessary and appreciated improvement. The makeshift shorthaul Business arrangement, similar to LH, also got mixed reviews.

Since the two airlines serve many of the same destinations and are used by passengers in combination, the alignment of service quality probably means that passengers feel equally well served on either, that the products are interchangeable.

Austrian Airlines

Austrian 4*

Points

Nat

Class

Food

Svc

Grnd

Cft

Val

8

DE

Y

G

G

G

G

X

4

DE

Y

B

       

8

IT

Y

G

M

 

G

X

6

CH

Y

M

M

G

M

X

6

UK

C

G

G

G

M

X

7

UE

C

G

G

 

G

X

6

CH

Y

G

G

G

G

X

7

UK

Y

G

G

G

M

X

1

UE

Y

B

B

 

B

 

10

UK

C

G

G

 

G

X

8

CH

Y

G

G

 

B

X

1

US

Y

 

B

B

 

X

6

UK

Y

M

G

 

G

X

6

CH

Y

M

G

M

G

 

6

NL

C

G

B

B

B

X

9

CH

C

G

G

G

M

X

8

AU

C

G

G

G

G

X

9

NO

C

G

G

G

G

X

7

CH

Y

M

G

 

G

X

4

AT

C

G

G

 

B

 

6

CH

Y

G

G

 

G

X

2

MY

Y

B

B

B

   

8

DK

Y

G

G

B

 

X

6

CH

Y

G

G

 

G

X

8

RO

Y

M

G

G

M

X

6.28

           

20

Since its post-war inception, Austrian has had a more tumultuous history than either of the other two Germanic flag carriers. It has been in and out of various markets, has had a wide variety of aircraft types and partners, and at present, still shows the signs of its pre-Lufthansa days in its fleet, which contains aircraft originally part of the Lauda heritage.

Despite this it remarkably also garners reviews similar to its neighboring airlines, while convincing a full 80% of its reviewers that they got good value in their selection. However, there was one unique factor at work with the OS reviews in that a single reviewer accounted for 10 of the postings in the group that was reviewed.

The passenger, who is Swiss, is clearly a frequent traveller and many of his assessments had some common language. However, he did not give the same numerical ranking each time, nor did he uniformly believe that the journey provided value.

The following is from one post; “After observing this route now for 1-2 months I have to say that standards differ pretty much. Sometimes you get a glass of drinks, sometimes you get a full can. Sometimes you get a nice salad, sometimes it is only a small sandwich. The crew can be very friendly, charming and smiling - or very disinterested.”

This adds credibility to our initial assumption that on any given day, people have different experiences and expectations, and that crew composition, aircraft type and time of day can result in quite different levels of satisfaction.

BMI British Midland

BMI 3*

Points

Nat

Class

Food

Svc

Grnd

Cft

Val

4

UK

Y

B

B

B

G

X

2

UK

Y

 

B

 

B

 

0

UK

Y

 

B

     

5

UK

Y

B

B

B

G

 

4

UK

Y

G

   

B

 

1

UK

Y

B

B

 

B

 

3

FR

Y

 

G

G

 

X

0

SG

Y

 

B

     

8

AU

Y

G

G

 

G

X

10

UK

Y

 

G

M

 

X

10

UK

Y

 

G

G

 

X

8

SG

Y

G

M

G

 

X

5

UK

Y

B

G

 

B

 

8

UK

Y

 

G

G

 

X

9

AU

Y

G

G

 

G

X

9

UK

Y

G

G

G

 

X

8

UK

Y

G

G

   

X

2

UK

C

G

 

B

   

5

UK

C

G

G

B

 

X

8

UK

C

G

G

 

M

X

8

UK

Y+

G

G

G

 

X

1

UK

Y

   

B

   

8

UK

C

G

G

G

G

X

7

UK

Y

     

G

X

7

UK

C

G

G

G

M

X

5.6

           

16

British Midland differs considerably from the previous three carriers. Its network is somewhat eclectic and includes a great many domestic UK and European flights. Its primary value lies in the number of slots held at Heathrow.

The airline operates a few longer routes with A330s and B757s that have a dedicated Business Class, but the majority of flights operate in a single cabin configuration, with, in some cases, the middle seat kept free.

Reviewers, most of whom flew short legs, tended to focus on ground services and facilities more than was the case with the previous three - as the travel time may include more ground time than air time.

More often than not, a high number indicated that the flight went smoothly and that the traveler’s expectations were met. A flight from London to Newcastle obviously provides minimal opportunities for grand features.

The cumulative assessment was of a carrier with generally predictable and acceptable service and amenities.

Brussels Airlines

Brussels Airlines 3*

Points

Nat

Class

Food

Svc

Grnd

Cft

Val

2

RW

C

M

M

 

B

 

8

NL

Y

     

G

X

5

UK

Y

G

G

B

M

 

9

MC

Y

G

G

G

G

X

7

UK

Y

     

G

 

5

BE

Y

     

G

 

0

UK

Y

   

B

   

8

FR

C

G

G

 

M

X

8

BE

Y+

 

M

M

   

9

UK

Y+

G

G

 

G

 

8

DK

Y

G

G

 

G

X

10

BE

Y

 

G

G

 

X

7

ES

Y

G

G

 

G

X

8

BE

Y

G

G

B

 

X

4

BE

Y

M

B

     

8

PT

Y

G

G

 

G

X

2

IT

Y

 

M

B

   

2

BE

Y

B

   

B

 

9

CH

Y+

G

G

 

G

X

0

SE

Y

   

B

   

0

FR

Y

   

B

   

3

FR

Y

     

B

 

7

BE

Y

       

X

8

IL

Y

G

G

G

G

X

8

DK

C

G

M

   

X

5.8

           

12

Sabena’s successor has chosen to operate a far smaller network than the former Belgian flag carrier; focused on Europe and Africa. Itineraries that include North America or Asia are routed over partner networks.

Prior to its part acquisition by LH, the airline had joined forces with Virgin Express, a low-cost competitor. The result, in Europe, has been a hybrid product that, according to reviewers, sometimes straddles the border between full-service and low-cost.

Differentiation on board is often by fare paid, with higher fares including more features. Those who had paid for the additional services were often critical of the choice, having seen little or no value rendered for the additional cost. Hence, SN has the smallest number of reviewers who realised a value proposition.

Additionally, many of its Africa routes are thinly served, making it possible for SN to charge higher fares than may be seen on other routes of similar distance. So again, there was some complaining about cost.

Like many of its European peers, the airline depends heavily on a fleet of Avro/BAe aircraft. The “longevity” of these aircraft has not escaped notice.

This set of reviews was the first in which posters acknowledged that some flights were made on codeshare carriers' equipment. In only one case was that seen as a negative development.

Lufthansa’s product lines are well aligned.

Whether by accident or design, Skytrax suggests the companies within the Lufthansa group align well within their service parameters. The three that share a common German heritage and geographic association are well suited to be used interchangeably and provide the customer with a similar service experience.

The other two bring benefits specific to their region, Heathrow for one and the EU capital for the other, and provide acceptable, if not stellar service. They all additionally, are members of Star alliance, adding significantly to that group’s European coverage.

Thus far, the Lufthansa Group is the only one that encompasses so many brands. The proposed expansion of the BA/Iberia paring may, eventually, provide another incarnation of the practice.

Next: the growing and turbulent market in South America where LAN in its many national forms is looking to merge with TAM, the flag carrier of the continent’s largest player, Brazil.


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