Customer-oriented US Airline becomes an oxymoron
The airline shift continues
The results were predictable, but jarring nonetheless. When the UK-based airline quality rating organization, SKYTRAX, announced its awards at Farnborough, the top 10 contained not a single carrier from the US and but one from Europe.
Taking the top spot was Qatar, an airline that operated its first commercial flight less than 20 years ago. Also represented in the top 10 were its cohorts in the Gulf - Etihad at number 6 and Emirates in position 8. Europe’s sole representative was Turkish Airlines, in seventh place - a carrier with a growth trajectory far more akin to the Gulf carriers than to its European peers. And part of Turkey is in Asia, giving it a toehold with the other winners.
All the rest were Asian: Asiana (2), Singapore (3), Cathay (4), ANA (5), THAI (9), and Malaysia (10). We have been told repeatedly that not only will Asia soon be the globe’s dominant aviation market in terms of passenger numbers, but the rankings also indicate that the region continues to widen its lead in the service quality aspect.
Lots of categories
For sure, broken down on a regional level, and there are a dizzying number of categories, the traditional airlines of the US and Europe regularly appear, with Lufthansa, Swiss International, and Virgin Atlantic often named. However, these stalwarts appear in positions 2 (LH) and 3 (LX) when ranking Europe’s best. The top position goes to Turkish, which also ranks in the top 5 transatlantic carriers.
More telling are the sub-categories with:
-no US or European airlines:
Best Cabin Staff
Best Economy Class
Best Economy Class Seats
-one European airline:
Best Inflight entertainment (Virgin Atlantic)
Best Business Class (Swiss)
Best Business Class seats (Virgin Atlantic)
Best First Class catering (Lufthansa)
The US carrier experience continues to disappoint
No US carrier makes it onto the lists of “Best Transatlantic” or “Transpacific” carriers, markets with a huge presence by these operators. There is no US carrier represented in any of the “Best Airline” categories, with the exception of the Best International Airlines in North America - and in that grouping, Air Canada has the top spot.
It would appear that when travelers in the US complain about poor service and numbing travel experiences, they are justified. Most telling is the fact that there is not a single US legacy airline on the “Best Domestic Airlines in North America” list. Even Spirit, famed for its Ryanair-esque ancillary fees and rigid policy enforcement, makes the list, albeit in the 10th position.
Like other components of 21st century life, the shift towards Asia is also evident in aviation. Twenty-five years ago, airlines from the US and Europe were the pillars of global aviation - innovative, respected, and sought out. While even then Singapore was appearing as a challenger, most Asian airlines were viewed as lovely alternatives in their region, but far from being global leaders.
All of this leads one to question whether many European, and to a greater extent, US legacy carriers, can rebuild their service reputations and re-enter the realm of “best” anything. More interestingly, as wages and costs in Asia continue to rise, can the region’s stellar service standards be economically maintained? Even long-envied Singapore Airlines is encountering slow going in the current marketplace where the rules of engagement continually shift in favor of those with low costs and fares.
Perhaps value, the heart of the price/quality equation, will become the new measure of consumer choice - no longer necessarily objectively “best,” but rather “best bang for the buck.” In 2025, how will we be measuring the list of SKYTRAX winners?