Great Britain

Why you shouldn't always believe airline surveys

Imagine you run a major international airline and, a few days before Christmas at the height of the season of goodwill, you learn that the travelling public seems to loathe you.

That is what happened to Alex Cruz, boss of British Airways, which was rated worst among UK carriers for both short- and long-haul flying; and Ryanair’s chief executive, Michael O’Leary, whose airline was voted poorest overall in the world. The survey was conducted by Which? magazine, with more than 6,000 Which? members responding.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, urges readers to boycott both airlines.

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“If you get a choice and you are flying short-haul, choose Jet2, it is better quality than BA and often has better fares than Ryanair,” he advises.

“If you are heading to the States, Virgin Atlantic beats BA hands-down.”

But I imagine neither Mr Cruz nor Mr O’Leary is losing too much sleep over their Advent adversity.

Starting with British Airways: passengers tend to grumble about losing things they previously enjoyed, even if the quid pro quo is cheaper fares. BA removed “free” snacks and drinks in short-haul economy in 2017, and last year brought in “basic economy" on intercontinental flights – meaning that you have to pay extra to check in a bag.

Separately, some monumental IT failures in the past couple of years have stranded tens of thousands of the airline's passengers.

I suspect, though, the main reason for the dismal rating for British Airways is that this survey took place in September, coinciding with pilots’ strikes and the cancellation of hundreds of flights. 

At the time, lots of BA passengers were cheesed off with cancelled (and sometimes quickly uncancelled) flights and the airline’s apparent disregard for European air passengers’ rights rules – refusing to rebook strike-hit customers on easyJet, for example.

But earlier this week the British Airways pilots reached an agreement with management, ruling out any more industrial action for the time being.

Ryanair had its own pilots’ strikes at about the same time. In the eyes of Which? members, though, Europe’s biggest budget airline is a repeat offender. 

The magazine said: “Customers gave the airline the lowest possible score of one star out of a possible five in all categories including boarding, customer service and cabin experience, apart from value for money where it managed a two-star rating.”

In sharp contrast was Jet2, which was second only to tiny (but monumentally unprofitable) Aurigny of Guernsey at the top of the short-haul table.

Jet2 and Ryanair happen to operate identical aircraft, the Boeing 737-800, in the same configuration, with 189 seats; the only difference that I can see is that Ryanair has a slightly younger fleet.

Yet while Ryanair scores only one star for “seat comfort” and “cabin environment,” Jet2 wins three and four stars respectively. So I wonder if perhaps a subconscious distaste for the Irish airline might be a factor in the ratings?

Thank goodness that Which? members are fortunate enough to live in the country with the most competitive aviation market in the world – with British Airways, easyJet, Jet2, Ryanair and Wizz Air battling it out for short-haul passengers, while BA, Norwegian and Virgin Atlantic take on dozens of rivals in long haul.

One of these years, the annual Which? survey may take into account the key concern of every passenger: safety. Ryanair has flown far more passengers safely – 1.3 billion and counting – than any other airline in the world.

That will do for me. And more travellers than ever are are enduring or (if not Which? members) perhaps enjoying Ryanair; it flies almost as many people in a day as Aurigny carries in a year.

Perhaps it’s wise not to confuse Which? members with the general travelling public.

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