From the latest issue


You will have read countless articles featuring airlines and their “new, world-beating Business Class cabins” or the luxurious lounges at their home airports. Several organisations also attempt to rank airlines’ Business cabins in order of quality – though many of these companies are rather suspect. However, while the size of a video screen, the quality of the free amenity bag or the dimensions of a seat are interesting, we think all these lists miss one important element.

Knowing what to expect when you buy a ticket is a key factor. There is no point in an airline offering a state-of-the-art service on one route if it offers an inferior service on others. Consistency is key so, instead of ranking airlines by how luxurious they are on their most modern aircraft, we have looked at how consistent they are across their whole fleet and network.

There are some important points to note:

•    You can judge an airline by the quality of catering it offers from its home airport. Contractors at some smaller airports, especially at less competitive destinations where there is a monopoly or duopoly, may not offer the quality of catering the airline would like. In this case, there is very little even the best airline can do.
•    The same applies to lounges, check-in and boarding processes. At some foreign airports, much of this will be outside the airline’s control.
•    Obviously, we are concentrating on longhaul routes operated by wide-bodied aircraft. A flight from Hong Kong to Manila may be operated by a wide-bodied aircraft but it is still a regional flight so you cannot compare the quality with a flight operated by the same airline between Hong Kong and London. Generally, we are looking at flights of more than five hours’ duration.
•    All airlines would like their cabin crew to behave in a consistent way. Unfortunately, none of them achieves this. Some airlines have crew that are normally better but, on a bad day, every airline can be a disappointment.
•    One factor that has a major impact on cabin crew, and is easily ignored, is the destination and mix of passengers. A flight to Tokyo will generally have an aircraft full of well-behaved passengers who are easy to look after and easy for other passengers to travel with. On the other hand, a flight to Las Vegas which is full of passengers in party mood, or a flight to Orlando packed with families and young children, is going to be a challenge to crew and other passengers alike.

The one factor that is within an airline’s direct control is the quality of the ‘hard product’: the seat and facilities in the cabin itself. We accept newer aircraft are likely to have slightly better seats or entertainment systems, as airlines take the opportunity to install newer products. Also, when an airline decides to relaunch its Business Class, we understand new seats cannot be installed across the fleet in a matter of days. However, we think it reasonable that any new launch be installed within eighteen months across the majority of an airline’s fleet…

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