Thursday, March 02, 2006

Jim Eagles: Asian airlines flying high

If you want great service when you're in the air, travel by an Asian airline. And avoid North American and European airlines like the plague.

That view - which I've had for some time - has been endorsed by the latest Skytrax Airline Excellence Awards, announced last week, which were once again dominated by Asian carriers such as Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines.

Like any awards these are bound to be a bit subjective, but Skytrax provides a reasonable indication of which airlines do a good job and which are best avoided.

Thai headed the list for 2006 having been judged to provide the best cabin service overall. Skytrax marketing director Peter Miller said the airline's "onboard service standards are returning to the leadership levels enjoyed by Thai many years ago".

I've always had good service on Thai, so if it's got even better that's great news.

Malaysia was champion in the economy class - where most of us travel - with China Airlines and Asiana Airlines providing the best business class and first class on-board service respectively.

I've never flown China or Asiana but I'd certainly agree that if you're going steerage then Malaysia is a good choice.

Cathay's airport lounges were tops and Japan's ANA provided the best airport service overall.

Middle Eastern airlines showed they continue to aspire to the highest standards, too, and Emirates offers the best inflight entertainment - and if you've tried it you'll know it offers a fantastic range of films, games, etc. Gulf Air had the best catering, and Qatar Airways got an award for consistent excellence.

The quality of airlines from the Middle East and Asia is further confirmed by the fact that Skytrax grades only four airlines as worthy of five stars: Cathay, Malaysia, Singapore and Qatar.

European airlines received a couple of consolation prizes, with Air Berlin offering the best service of any low-cost airline, and Aeroflot recognised for making the biggest improvement. But neither of those is likely to get five-star status any time soon.

The awards for regional airlines were also dominated by Asian carriers. Bangkok Airways got the prize for providing the best service overall and India's Kingfisher Airlines was judged the best new airline.

The only airline from the Pacific to have its prowess recognised was Air Tahiti Nui, which got a special award for on-board service excellence for a small airline.

Air Tahiti Nui already provides a service from Auckland to Japan, the United States and France via Tahiti and is about to start a direct flight from Auckland to New York.

I haven't flown the airline yet but that award from Skytrax suggests Tahiti Nui is well worth considering as another option if the timetable suits.

Air New Zealand and Qantas, which most of us still fly, didn't feature in the awards, but Skytrax still rates them fairly highly.

Both get four stars overall - an honour granted to around 10 per cent of the airlines rated - putting the Australasians in the same company as Emirates, Gulf Air, Royal Brunei, Thai, Japan Airlines, KLM, British Airways, Air France and Air Tahiti Nui.

That rates Air New Zealand and Qantas ahead of the likes of Air Pacific, Aer Lingus, Air Canada, LAN, Aerolineas Argentinas, pretty well every US carrier - one exception is Midwest Airlines which gets four stars as a low-cost carrier - and about 200 others.

Compared with Qantas, Air New Zealand suffers from the fact that it doesn't provide first class any more, an area where the big Aussie scores five stars, though for long-haul business and economy class both airlines get four stars overall.

Air New Zealand's new business-class seating scores five stars, as does the attitude of the airline's staff in business, while Qantas rates only four stars in both areas.

In the important area of economy, Air New Zealand's seats are rated more comfortable than those of Qantas, the meals are rated the same, and Air New Zealand wins again in service efficiency.

Interestingly, Qantas does particularly badly when it comes to staff language skills, where it rates only two stars ... well, they are Australians.

My impression is that the standard of service provided by Air New Zealand and Qantas in economy class has declined over the years - hardly surprising given the way costs and fares have been cut - but if you're flying only transtasman it hardly matters.

And, fortunately, with more airlines flying into New Zealand, including several of those rated by Skytrax as among the best in the world, travellers do have greater choice at the margins.

As far as I can see, none of the airlines rated as meriting only two stars overall flies into New Zealand.

And in case you're interested, the two airlines which got just one star from Skytrax were Afriqiyah Airways and Air Koryo. You have been warned.

* You can check the Skytrax ratings of airlines on The 2006 awards, which can be tricky to track down, are at


Anonymous Cloud9 said...

Cloud9 - Airlines Blog

How much should we trust Skytrax? If you happen to know more about how Skytrax truly operates (it seems no one knows), do drop me a comment. I'm very curious about Skytrax.

2:09 AM  

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