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Asiana’s the Best! But I live in Sweden. Behind the Skytrax quality survey

1-Jun-2010

Recently Skytrax, the public face of the UK’s Inflight Research Services group, held its annual awards ceremony in Hamburg. Its website, www.airlinequality.com, provides an open forum for travelers worldwide to report on airlines and airports, based on their personal experience with various providers.

Lots of parameters

Plus, each year it solicits additional input used in the annual carrier survey.

Divided into various subcategories, the group solicits travelers’ assessments of airlines as a group and by region; by class, catering, seat comfort and lounge amenities. Service categories also provide an opportunity for passengers to evaluate the staff with whom they interact. There are also separate categories for legacy and low cost carriers, which rate the business models differently.

Finally, using all of this information, Skytrax has established criteria that allow it to assign star rankings on a scale of 1 to 5. These categories derive from the aggregation of passenger reports and are based primarily on the alignment of promise and performance.

Skytrax’s CEO, Edward Plaisted, offers the following explanation of the criteria involved, "the greatest attribute behind 5-Star status is an airline's ability to deliver the combination of Product and Service. A great product standard is not by itself the key to a 5-Star ranking, since we are equally concerned by the Quality of front-line service that an airline provides."

Some big factors omitted

Interestingly, the group excludes commercial concerns such as fares, schedules and reward programs from its process, instead being completely focused on the “‘delivered’ frontline Product and Service”. The site also applies what it defines as an “international style” approach that diminishes differences between regional passenger perceptions and expectations, thus conceptually at least, creating a more level playing field.

But it’s still subjective

Yet while criteria are set for the various categories, the responses are subjective, based on the individual traveler’s perceptions and thus easily affected by mood, preconceptions or previous experience. A poor report may often have more to do with a long security line than with the actual flight experience, the hassle having predisposed the passenger to a critical mode.

Nonetheless, by reading a representative sample of the reviews one can often get a general overview of the carrier or airport involved, which is often a fair representation of the average experience that might be encountered.

What this means in the grand scheme of things is that the overall, rather than individual content is perhaps more valuable. For instance, over time Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines have regularly traded back and forth for the top global positions. It is doubtful that the average traveler would be cognizant of the subtle differences that are a part of that jockeying for position.

But the results do provide customers with aggregated perceptions of quality that reflect clear differences between providers. However, by eliminating the commercial factors –especially rewards – the results may not be reflective of the most prominent parameters of customer choice. Corporate negotiators, for instance, are often far more focused on price than a quality score.

Who’s ranked where and when?

The first table shows the rankings for Airline of the Year since 2001. The presence of Cathay and Singapore is fairly ubiquitous across the decade. Emirates began with a splash, but has lost some of its shine in recent years, according to the survey. In 2006, British appeared in the top position and then once again disappeared and Qantas has flirted with greatness yet recently dropped out of the top tier.

Year

1st

2nd

3rd

2001

Emirates

Singapore

Cathay

2002

Emirates

Cathay

Singapore

2003

Cathay

Emirates

Singapore

2004

Singapore

Emirates

Cathay

2005

Cathay

Qantas

Emirates

2006

British

Qantas

Cathay

2007

Singapore

Thai

Cathay

2008

Singapore

Cathay

Qantas

2009

Cathay

Singapore

Asiana

And for 2010?

All that being said, the results provide an interesting window from which to view broader trends and changes. As one example, the traditionally strong Asian brands are being increasingly challenged by the Gulf carriers; with Emirates, Etihad and now Qatar, nudging into the top rankings. And, fair or not, the US carriers remain totally absent from any global categories outside of North America.

The table below shows a sampling of the results, with the full listing, along with details of the methodology, available at the airlinequality website.

There are some surprises as well as some categories that allow a far better chance for airlines to score better; in three of the low-cost categories the winning airline was the only entrant. And while few may have had the opportunity to fly Air Astana, its limited rivals in Eastern Europe make it a candidate for excellence despite its performance vis-à-vis the top players.

There is also the matter of size. Some carriers, because they are globally known and ranked have the opportunity to garner more results. However, that theory has limits as the world’s largest carriers, with the most passengers, are represented only once, by Delta.

Asian carriers dominate

Nonetheless, of the first 39 available spaces (first 13 lines) it is clear that the Asian carriers (in bold) dominate, followed by the emerging mob in the Gulf (italicized). In those first 13 categories, with 39 placement spots, and open to all carriers worldwide, only 4 positions are occupied by carriers outside those two regions. And with a record 7 spots in those categories, Singapore obviously continues to do something right.

As promised, the US carriers, long dominant in the global market, fare poorly and none of the large network carriers makes it into the last category, which ranks staff service in the region; those positions being occupied by two low-cost carriers and the smallest of the US majors.

Category

1st

2nd

3rd

Airline of the Year

Asiana

Singapore

Qatar

Best Low-cost

Air Asia

Air Berlin

Virgin Blue

Best Regional

Dragonair

SilkAir

Bangkok Air

Most Improved

Garuda

Hainan

Oman Air

Inflight Entertainment

Emirates

Singapore

Virgin Atlantic

Best Cabin Staff

Singapore

Malaysia

Asiana

Best Airport Services

Thai (BKK)

Asiana (ICN)

ANA (NRT)

Best First Class

Etihad

Singapore

Qantas

Best Business Class

Qatar

Singapore

Etihad

Best Economy Class

Malaysia

Qatar

Singapore

Best F Catering

Etihad

Cathay

Singapore

Best C Catering

Qatar

Austrian

Singapore

Best Y Catering

Turkish

Etihad

Qatar

Best Transatlantic

Virgin Atlantic

British

Lufthansa

Best Transpacific

Cathay

Singapore

Asiana

Best Alliance

oneworld

Star

SkyTeam

Best African

S. African

Kenya

Mauritius

Best Asian

Asiana

Singapore

Cathay

Best Austrailasia

Air NZ

Qantas

V Australia

Best Chinese

Hainan

China Southern

Air China

Best South East Asia

Singapore

Thai

Malaysia

Best Central Asia/India

Kingfisher

Jet

Sri Lanka

Best Mid East

Qatar

Etihad

Emirates

Best Central/Caribbean

TACA

COPA

Caribbean

Best South American

LAN

TAM

Avianca

Best North American

Air Canada

Continental

Delta

Best Europe

Lufthansa

Swiss

Turkish

Best Europe South

Turkish

Aegean

TAP

Best Europe North

Finnair

Norwegian

SAS

Best Europe West

Lufthansa

British

Swiss

Best Europe East

Malev

Czech

Air Astana

Low-cost Asia

Air Asia

Jetstar

Tiger

Low-cost Africa

Kulula

   

Low-cost Australasia

Virgin Blue

Jetstar

Tiger

Low-cost Europe

Air Berlin

EasyJet

Norwegian

Low-cost Central Asia/India

Indigo

   

Low-cost Mid East

Air Arabia

   

Low-cost North America

Virgin America

WestJet

Southwest

Low-cost South America

GOL

   

Staff Service N. America

WestJet

Virgin America

Alaska

Helpful tidbits and interesting results

Some of this information is useful to travelers, especially those traveling to or within regions where the carrier’s names may be unfamiliar. For instance, if you are a foodie traveling in economy, it is nice to know that Turkish is likely to bring joy to your palate.

However, despite its high marks for improvement, only a small fraction of the world’s travelers will have occasion to board a Garuda aircraft. And while oneworld may be ranked as the best alliance, that outcome will have little practical value for the holder of a United 1K status or a frequent traveler living in Atlanta where Delta, and hence SkyTeam, rules. There is also the fact that of the 15 lines devoted to “best” in each region, comprising 45 placements, oneworld and Skyteam carriers combined appear less often than either Star or those remaining unaligned.

Alliance Shares

Star

19

42%

Unaligned

15

33%

oneworld

7

16%

Skyteam

4

9%

So, as with many other polls and surveys, the results can provide fodder for thought but have little effect on the reality of one’s choices. One’s location and type of travel are often the dominant factors. Cost and schedule, which regularly rank as the top two factors that influence carrier choice, are, as noted, omitted from the Skytrax parameters.

Being #1 may bring limited benefits

Therefore the power and influence of quality service is significantly tempered by a great many factors that may combine to make a carrier’s reputation a non-consideration for many, if not most, of the world’s consumers. Occasional travelers in Ohio or Cairo may read of top-ranked carriers but never have the opportunity to experience them.

However, the ratings do indicate that a flight on SIA or Etihad might just make one’s most convenient and available airline pale by comparison, making it all the more difficult for the local carrier to get a glowing evaluation.


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