Why Skytrax is dead [Plus: 7 insights into the future of airline brand ratings]
Recently, I discovered that Hainan Airlines of China has been awarded a “5 Star” status by Skytrax putting them in the same reign as Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways. While Hainan might be a decent airline, putting it in the highest category seemed out of context. And it wasn’t just me, discussing sprouted up around the web on this. Someone on Airliners.net said that Skytrax is becoming “Skytrash”. Someone else called it “Skycash” due to allegations that airlines need to pay big to acquire a new star level.
I feel rating Hainan as Five Star was the final nail in the coffin for Skytrax. Here are three reasons why I believe Skytrax is dead:
- Irrelevant – If I’m a Kobe Bryant, then the only Business Class seat that’s Five Star for me is Oman Air’s – not Asiana or any other 5-star-classified airline. Because I can fit in there. Moreover, service and products differ dramatically for airlines on different routes and sectors. Hence, airlines ratings need to be relevant – which Skytrax is not.
- Not real-time- Annual ratings are no longer desirable as airline service levels can dramatically change over a much smaller period of time. Look at how Garuda Indonesia dramatically improved service in the last month. Moreover, passengers are now used to rating in real-time and also consume real-time data, which Skytrax doesn’t seem to support
- Not peer-reviewed- In the same vain as real-time, passengers are used to reading peer-reviews to determine which airline to fly, not annual “star ratings”. In fact, recently, the UK government announced that they’re withdrawing support for hotel star ratings, because consumers prefer peer-reviewed ratings.
What does the Twitterati think about Skytrax?
Again, these are just my own opinions. To verify them, I conducted a poll on Twitter, and here are some reactions from those who took part, along with the chart summarizing the poll results.
As you can see from the results of the poll, 81% of the respondents believed that Skytrax ratings are highly irrelevant. I guess that sends a clear signal to airline managers obsessed with achieving an additional Star on the Skytrax ratings to look elsewhere.
What is the future of airline ratings?
Now that the writing on the wall for Skytrax is quite clear, we should think about the future. For starters, there are alternates like Eezeer’s NOW ratings for airlines, TripAdvisor’s airline reviews and even Zagat ratings, which are much more real-time and relevant than Skytrax. A recent USA today article also evaluated a variety of airline ratings.
So now that travelers have a lot of alternates to Skytrax, airlines looking to adhere to the next wave of airline ratings need to consider a few facts. And here are 10 of those.
1. Each flier is different in what he/she wants in a “perfect” airline. It depends on various factors which themselves vary between various (yes, another various) airlines. Hence, the difficulty of quantifying what makes an airline good. It’s purely subjective.
2. Business travelers often prefer extra space (think laptops, business suits, comfort) along with lounge access, free pickups – and they will rate the airline differently than leisure travelers. In fact, each micro-segment will have it’s own way of assessing the quality of the airline -from backpackers, to gramdmoms. Airlines need focused differentiation. Don’t try to be everything to everyone!
3. Presence of multiple surveys is more confusing than enlightening. Doesn’t really help since the traveller looking for advice due to their different results and interpretations of what is “best”. And airlines need to help simplify this process.
4. Comparisons in surveys are often not done in a uniform manner. LCCs cannot be included in the same class as legacy carriers (Zagat Survey) since they serve different purposes and will have different offerings.
5. Consumers can often see through the PR spin by airlines about rankings. Proclaiming a winner might be the result of a magazine/survey’s prejudices. So, be truthful, and don’t try to cover up your misgivings.
6. While ratings matter, price is still a key factor for deciding which airline to fly on – followed by schedule and convenience. Hence, sort out the basics of what value you’re offering to the customers, before dedicating resources to managing ratings.
7. Airlines should ultimately have route managers being held responsible for ratings of their specific route, over time and versus competition on that route. And that’s when the overall impact will be felt.
Eventually, not only is it difficult to identify the “best” airline, I think the question is pointless until a standardised method of measurement is undertaken. Otherwise, we might as well say oranges are better than apples (which might be true depending on the person.) The counterpoint of course is that some airlines are indeed oranges while others are apples. So can airlines be truly compared since they all tend to offer value through differentiation and will tend to do better than other airlines on some counts and worse on some other counts.
Until we can truly quantify such problems and even them out, the question of best is useless. We should stick to systems that compare airlines across a list of measures and let the traveler decide which airline to fly depending on how *he* views the relative importance of those measures.
And the reality is that Skytrax is a 90s technology that faces sunset this year – and unless they re-invent themselves to incorporate real-time peer-reviews, be transparent about their rating system and use social media to engage with customers – they’re doomed.
What do you think? Let’s discuss on Twitter and in comments.
P.S: Special thanks to Shubhodeep Pal for help with this article