My Top Airlines for 2012

Posted on: December 30th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

This  last year, I flew 121 times for a total distance of  331,127km (205,753 mi). This is eight and a quarter times around the earth. I was inside planes for a whopping 19 days of the year. Some airlines made my time with them a delight – and some made it not so fun. I rate each flight I take for every factor from Booking to Check-in to deplaning. and keep a tally of my rating using  The scores averaged out give me the ranking of flights, airlines and airports.  I have placed my score for each airline next to the airline name. Next year, I need to write more trip reports!

Check out my worst airline of 2012 list.

Here are my 2012 best airlines (NB I have not ever flown Malaysian, Asiana, Eva or ANA who Skytrax consider amongst the best  airlines in the world).


1. Qatar Airlines  – 100%

Qatar: 22 November 1993. Fleet:  116 Destinations: 124 Employees: 20,000.  Skytrax Rating: 5 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 87%

 I used to be cynical about Qatar’s many awards but I have to concede the airline is actually fantastic. The thing that is impressive about Qatar is not only are they excellent but they are consistently excellent. That is an impressive achievement for an airline that is expanding as rapidly as Qatar. Crews are friendly,  entertainment system brilliant and not only is the airline comfortable in Business but they have the most generous seat room  in Economy. The airline is removing first class from its planes although their Business Class is probably better than most carrier’s First Class. Meals are excellent, excellent and excellent! So glad they are joining One World. Now to find a flight on their 787!

 Related Post

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1. Emirates – 100%

United Arab Emirates: 25 October 1985. Fleet:  191 Destinations: 124 Employees: 50,000 (whole group).  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 60%

Emirates is steadily and determinedly moving toward being the world’s biggest airline on every measure. My experiences with Emirates have been consistently fantastic from their straight forward booking system to their efficient check in service.  Wherever I have been, I get great on board service, amazing meals and access to a brilliant entertainment system. I have yet to meet an unfriendly employee whether in their call centre, at check in, or on board.

Related Post

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3. Cathay Pacific – 96%

Hong Kong: 24 September, 1946. Fleet:  135 Destinations: 60 Employees: 29,800  Skytrax Rating: 5 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 78%

One of the oldest airlines in my Top Ten, I have been flying them for 20 years now. Cathay slipped in my ratings a couple of years ago but they have bounced back now. The new business class refit is just right. I like their new Premium Economy and even their standard economy seats are acceptable.  Their entertainment system is brilliant. Staff are friendly. Food is great. And I am so in love with their lounge at Hong Kong airport.


3. Air New Zealand  – 96%

New Zealand: 1930. Fleet:  135 Destinations: 104 Employees: 10, 450  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 70%

Skytrax savaged Air New Zealand his year pushing them out of their Top ten to 17th place. I struggle to find fault with he airline. Starting with friendly Kiwi service, add a website that is easy to negotiate, great aircraft interiors and some of the best lounges ever. The food on board and in their Koru Club lounges that is fresh and delicious across all classes.  The website easy to negotiate and on board entertainment system. I am not a fan of their new Trans Tasman offerings as I think the bundles they offer are too complicated but they work okay. Best safety videos ever!

 Related Post

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5. Virgin Australia -95%

Australia: August, 2000. Fleet:  90 Destinations: 50 Employees: 7, 006  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 73%

Two years ago, there is no way I would have put this airline anywhere near the Top Ten. Since then the carrier has had a total overhaul.New name, new livery, new uniforms; new catering; new aircraft and a new business class. Service is outstanding. Food is great.

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5. Thai Airways -95%

Thailand: 1 October 1972 . Fleet:  89 Destinations: 75 Employees: 25.761  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 67%

My major niggle with Thai is some nervousness with their past safety record. My major regret of 2012 was not getting onto their A380! Must rectify in 2013! Thai hospitality is a notch above other airlines. Their planes sparkle. Food is good in Economy and excellent in Business. Service friendly and genuine.


7. Singapore 92%

Singapore: 1 October 1972 . Fleet:  320 Destinations: 62 Employees: 14,515  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 88%

Singapore Airlines in my mind used to be the Emirates and Qatar of the world but I think their leadership has been slightly eroded. They still have great food, great planes, and a great entertainment system (Krisworld), however.  My major criticism of SQ is that their staff tend to be a little too robotic for me. They do work hard on every flight.


8. JetBlue 91%

USA: 11 February, 2000,  . Fleet:  172 Destinations: 75 Employees: 11, 797  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline.  Skytrax Passenger Rating: 76%

Yes, I am saying JetBlue are the best airline in the USA. I have been flying JetBlue regularly since their first year. For a budget airline, their offerings are very, very good. In fact, I think better than their so called “full service” counterparts.   Free checked baggage (which in the USA is a rarity),  personal entertainment units, and  free snacks and drinks. I always buy the  Even More Space with extra leg room and priority boarding. Their website has always been a breeze to use. And when they make a mistake they acknowledge it and try and  fix it.  Flying feels very stress free with JetBlue. J.D. Power and Associates  acknowledged this when they found JetBlue to be number one in customer satisfaction for a North American low-cost carrier.


9. Virgin America 90%

USA: 8 August, 2007. Fleet:  52 Destinations: 19 Employees: 2,200  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 80%

The airline is still not making any money but it wows the crowds (and me) with their product. In 2012, I had my first disappointing experience when I was a little underwhelmed with a very delayed LAX-SFO flight. The experience has caused me to put JetBlue ahead of them this trip. I think their customer service responses could have been handled better. Lessons from JetBlue might be handy here. Apart from that, I find the carrier a real joy to fly. On board food and drink offerings are interesting. I like the on screen ordering system. Entertainment options are grand. WiFi works well. With a  very few exceptions, every Virgin America employee is both friendly and fun.

Related Post

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10 Qantas  88%

Australia: 16 November 1920. Fleet:  143 Destinations: 41 Employees: 27, 405  Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 77%

Qantas is not as good as they used to be. Skytrax knocked them out of their Top Ten carriers last year. I believe they still deliver a quality product domestically and internationally, however. Their website is straightforward to use unless you are booking multi city international fares when it is a nightmare. They could fix their frequent flyer app to make it useful. I found the staff to be very welcoming on all my flights this year. I like their meals. Where Qantas really excel is that  they really understand the needs of the long haul customer. The refurbished interiors look great and the Q entertainment system works very well with great variety of shows. Disappointing they have pulled wi-fi.

Related Posts:

Qantas ditches WiFi???

Trip Report: Qantas 93: Melbourne to Los Angeles


Highly Commended:

Alaska Airlines are still a pleasure to fly. Friendly stress free experiences. JD Power said they were the best mainline carrier in the USA and commended them for their boarding, deplaning and baggage process. I would agree. Entertainment options are limited. WiFi is available.  Main cabin Food choices includes some good meals and fresh foods and Alaska seem to have worked hard on First  Class choices. They have the best airline app I have seen for the iPhone and Android.

LAN are usually good -but again not consistent. Their Economy product is actually quite stable but Business class is all over the place. Meals superb. Entertainment systems variable. Skytrax places them as a three star. When they are good, they are 4 star.

Lufthansa have attentive and professional service, good entertainment, excellent food and drink selection. Not in my Top Ten but definitely worth recommending.

Turkish Air have the best food of any airline I have ever been on – in every class. The rest of their product, however is incredibly inconsistent. On  flights where everything worked well, I would put them into the Top Ten. The trouble is that for every superb flight, I had with them, I then had a mediocre one. Although, I hasten to add, I never had a bad experience. So on some flights cabin crews were amazing. On others disappointing, On some there is a  great entertainment system and free wi-fi. On others there are almost no offerings.  I am still waiting for my points to be added to my United Mileage Plus account.

Highly improved:

Delta continues to draw ahead of the other US airlines. Their Business Class offerings I think are superior to any of the other US carriers. Economy (Coach) less so. Staff enthusiasm and friendliness has improved. JD Power has them as the best of the major four US carriers.

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JetBlue WestJet Expand Space for Pay

Posted on: August 10th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

JetBlue has made a lot of fuss about the extra legroom in their cabins. It is one reason I love them. I also have been very happy to pay the premium to get the extra row emergency exit seats. They call this Product “Even More(TM) Space”.  On JetBlue’s Airbus A320 aircraft, Even More Space seats with 38-inches of legroom are offered in rows 2-5 plus emergency exit rows 10 and 11.

I like it because not only do you get more room (38″ instead of 33″), you also get Priority Boarding which means your luggage is first away. I have also found that these seats are the last to fill and I have often ended up with two seats to myself!  In some airports, Even More Space has meant priority security access.

JetBlue have announced they are adding additional Even More Seating space on their Embraer E190 fleet.  For an additional fee, sixteen seats in rows 1, 12, 13 and 14 now offer the extra legroom and benefits.

The small print is, of course, to give four rows 5″ extra, means that 20″ needs to come from somewhere. Does this mean twenty of the other rows will see their legroom fall from 33 to 32 inches? This seems a shame to reduce one of JetBlue’s advantages. The reality, however is that airlines seem to be all reducing their services and benefits and then charging people extra fees to enjoy for what used to be standard benefits!

At the same time, JetBlue are introducing a new tier to their Frequent Flyer Program: True Blue. The new tier is called TrueBlue Mosaic and includes:

  • Free second checked bag for everyone flying on the member’s reservation
  • Free Even More™ Speed, providing expedited security at 36 airports for everyone flying on the member’s reservation
  • Early boarding with early access to overhead bin space for everyone flying on the member’s reservation
  • Ability to use TrueBlue points to purchase Even More™ Space seats for extra legroom
  • Access to a dedicated 24/7 customer service line

TrueBlue members will be automatically upgraded to TrueBlue Mosaic when they have earn 15,000  flight points in a calendar year.

I am interested that Mosaic holders do not automatically get the extra space seat. True they have the option of getting the seats for points and not cash but the airline still wants the revenue from these passengers. Most of the benefits they are offerring won’t cost the airline much. Faster security and priority boarding cost the airline nothing. An extra bag oir two costs a little in terms of fuel.


Over at Canadian carrier Westjet, the airline announced the introduction of Premium Economy seating across its entire fleet. The airline will provide introduce four rows of extra legroom seating with 36 inches of pitch. Bundled with that will be convenience features such as priority boarding and free on-board amenities. The reconfiguration will begin in August and will be completed in December 2012.

At the same time, WestJet is “standardising” its regular seat pitch at 31 – 32 inches. In other words, some of the other rows will lose some of their “excess space” to free up that space.



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Jet Blue, Emirates Freq Flyer Reciprocity

Posted on: July 2nd, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

The bigger news is that Emirates and JetBlue (having announced a code sharing agreement in April, 2012) have now said that as of yesterday (July 1, 2012), their Frequent-flier programs are now reciprocal. Fliers can earn credits in either of the carrier’s loyalty programs (but not both on the same flight!).Jet Blue customers can earn TrueBlue points on any of Emirates’ worldwide flights based on the number of miles on that flight and fare class:

  • Emirates Economy Saver (B H K L M Q T U V X ) will earn 0.5 True Blue Points for every mile flown
  • Emirates Economy Flex (E R W Y) will earn 1 True Blue Point for every mile flown
  • Emirates Business Class ( C I J) will earn 1.25 True Blue Points for every mile flown
  • Emirates First Class (A, F, P) will earn 1.5 True Blue Points for every mile flown

Members of Emirates’ Skywards program will be able to earn Skywards miles on any of JetBlue’s flights in North and South America on the following basis:

  • Hyper Discounted* Jet Blue Fares (N, T, X) will earn no Skywards points
  • Highly Discounted Fares (O, P, S, U) will earn 0.25 Skywards Points for every mile flown
  • Discount economy flights (B, L, M, Q, R, V) will get 0.5 Skywards Points for every mile flown
  • Full Economy flights (E, H, K, Y) will earn 1 Skywards Points for every mile flown

Points will be able to redeem their miles on the other airlines are expected to start from the end of February 2013.

To celebrate the launch of the partnership, double points are being immediately offered for points earnt on the other carrier. The promotion requires advance and runs through Sept. 30. For more see JetBlue and Emirates.

Emirates is my favourite airline in the world and JetBlue is my favourite US airline. I have frequent flyer membership with both airlines. My dilemma is which scheme will I focus on?

Thursday, I am off to Berlin. Was hoping for an Air Berlin flight as I have never flown them.  I have ended up on British Airways, instead.


*My name for this fare category!

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US Best and Worst Carriers

Posted on: June 17th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

The North America Airline Satisfaction Study was released on June 13 showing satisfaction with US  and Canadian airlines declined slightly from the previous year . This survey run  by  J.D. Power and Associates 2012 involves more than 13,500 passengers giving their input between May 2011 and April 2012. Power scores airlines out of 1000 points with points being awarded for  seven factors in this order of importance:

  1. Cost and fees
  2. In-flight services;
  3. Boarding/deplaning/baggage;
  4.  Flight crew;
  5. Aircraft;
  6. Check-in;
  7. Reservations,

Overall North American airlines rated 681 points down from 683 in 2011.

Low cost carriers (average score 754 up 3) performed better than traditional carriers (average score 674 down 4 points).


A few interesting points emerged from the survey:

  • JetBlue were number onewith 776 points. This was their seventh time in number one place.
  • Delta Air Lines was the only traditional carrier to improve from 2011, jumping by 9 index points. I concur with this
  • 34 per cent of customers now check in online.
  • Overall satisfaction with the check-in process is highest when passengers check in using a mobile device (845), compared with curbside (840) and using a traditional computer/laptop (825).
  • Check in satisfaction is much lower when using a kiosk (793); or the main counter (778)
  • Passengers who paid to check bags had an average satisfaction score 85 points lower than other passengers. Looks like airlines have a long way to go for passengers to accept they have to pay for what was a given. My thinking is one bag free and then charge.
  • While the cost and fees factor is important, more than 70 percent of passenger satisfaction is driven by other parts of the overall experience.
  •  Attributes pertaining to a carrier’s process and people, rather than price, are more highly correlated with passengers’ intentions to fly with an airline again in the future.
  • There is a major gap between United and Continental which have now merged. It will be interesting to see in 2013 what the result is for the combined airline. We may also see AirTran vanish from the rankings as Southwest absorb them.

This table lists the airlines in the order of their overall Power Rating. I also note where a particular area stands out. I have also listed my own scores for the airlines.

Place Airline Rating Customers liked Disliked My Score My Ranking
1 JetBlue 776 Aircraft Boarding 97% 1
2  Southwest 770 Aircraft, On Board service 91% 5
3 WestJet 733 Staff Experience ?
4 AirTran 698 On Board Service 92% 4
5 Frontier . 694 On Board Service 95% 2
6 Alaska Airlines 678 88% 6
7 Air Canada’ 677 Cost and fees Reservations 80% 8
8 Delta 659 Aircraft 82% 7
9 Continental 649 94% 3
10 American 647 60% 11
11 United 625 On Board Service 70% 9
12 US 614 Reservations 66% 10

I also rank JetBlue as the best. For me Virgin America are an equal first. I put Frontier and Continental a lot higher than  survey respondents and Southwest I give fifth place while survey respondents gave them second place. I rank AirTran slightly above merger partner Southwest while the surveyed public had Southwest ahead.  AirTran have been great to me (with one exception) and I am sad to see them go. American, United and US are consistently my least favoured carriers. Power respondents also gave them the three lowest votes. I have never flown Westjet.


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Air Australia–Where does a new Carrier fit?

Posted on: January 6th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

Since the start of aviation , Australia’s domestic airline market has been largely composed of two major national airlines. From time to time the cozy duopoloy is challenged by a new entrant with a blaze of low fares.The latest such carrier is Air Australia.

2011 Background

Twelve months is a long time in aviation. Qantas the dominant domestic carrier suffered a series of rolling disputes in 2011 culminating in the dramatic three day grounding of the carrier’s services. Tiger Airlines Australia was also grounded be the safety authorities in mid 2011 for safety breaches. Virgin Blue the nation’s largest discount carrier has made a move to full service airline.

Brisbane-based Strategic Airlines

Operating as a full service charter airline since 1991, its biggest  client has been the Australian Defence Force  until last year . Strategic purchased Ozjet in 2009 along with its staff , Air Operator Certificate and the Perth-Derby  route.

On 15th November, 2011, Strategic retired its name, red white and blue brand and full service model. It became Air Australia, a new international and domestic low-cost carrier. Its route network expanded on December 15, 2011. The carrier has a mixture of A320s and A330s.   Why the shift? Simple. Air Australia, needs to make money. It lost that major contract with the Australian Defence Force last year amidst a police investigation. The airline is cash flow positive because of its charter business but made a significant loss last year. 

Services now include:

  • One domestic flight:  Melbourne to Brisbane
  • Melbourne and Brisbane to Phuket
  • Brisbane to Bali,
  • Melbourne and Brisbane to Honolulu
  • Brisbane-Port Hedland
  • Perth to Derby
  • The airline also plans to fly between Brisbane and Darwin. It has permission to fly to China and has applied to fly to Vietnam.
There is no competition on the Hawaiian routes.   This seems to be the strategy- to build an international network that is not Sydney focused and not in direct competition with the “big boys”. Jetstar/Qantas and Hawaiian all operate only from Sydney to Honolulu. I am interested to see if there is enough traffic on those sectors for Air Australia. Honolulu used to be a very popular destination for Australians but they have seem to moved onto other destinations no. Air Australia is a brand new carrier and have no US partnerships to feed traffic to or from.  From Brisbane to Bali via Darwin, Air Australia competes with both Jetstar and Virgin.

Unique Selling Points

CEO Michael James (who has been with the airline since 2002) said in contrast to Qantas and Virgin, the airline would offer: “Simplicity, value, operational integrity, genuine fares and service are our promise and all that we believe many Australian travellers want in order to get safely and enjoyably from A to B,” Air Australia are emphasising the following:

  • their 100 per cent Australian ownership
  • planes that are serviced in Australia (a dig at Qantas)
  • first bag free (a dig at Virgin, Tiger and Jetstar)
  • the option to buy a meal when booking and/or snacks on board (I am not convinced many people will take the meal option)
  • an eight-seat fully serviced business class (with no lounge,  no frequent flyer points and fares that are not much less than competitors)
  • an economy class with just 152 total seats on its A320s, compared with 180 seats on the same planes flown by Jetstar
They are believed to be considering introducing a frequent flyer program similar to the one Southwest Airlines had in the USA where a free trip is awarded after every ten flights.

Operational Integrity

This is a major issue.  Reading through the Trip Adviser’s discussion page on Strategic, there is complaint after complaint about the airline’s reliability. For example, Never again!!! 2 hour delay there, 9 hour delay on the way home!!!  In June, 2011, a “minor fault” on an A330 stranded several hundred people in Kuala Lumpur for four days.  The episode cost the airline more than $1 million in expenses to look after the people stranded. It has said that internal procedures have been overhauled and aircraft schedules changed to ensure there are always backup planes available.

The Big Question

Who will fly an airline that has no other significant domestic network, only flies twice a day on one domestic route and a couple of times a week on their international routes,  and offers fares that are not much different to the others?? If Air Australia tries to expand and directly compete on other domestic routes then it will be in a risky space. The CEO reassuringly has said: “Many of our staff and advisers have extensive airline backgrounds and we have seen it all before, we understand the challenges of the industry and we understand the market”  I don’t see enough differentiation to grab passengers, however and an emphasis solely on discounted fares will ultimately fail. Without a significant differentiation, I can’t see Air Australia filling their planes and therefore survival is at risk. There are a few directions, Air Australia could go with their model.

 The Allegiant Airlines model

At the moment, they seem to be following the Allegiant Airlines model. Allegiant is a US Carrier that is similar to Air Australia in that they operate charter and regular services. They have been doing so since 1997 and had their current business model since 2001. Some of the features ofAllegian’s model include:

  • Generating high ancillary incomes in addition to ticket revenue- they currently average  $33 per passenger in ancillary revenues
  • Selling 400 000 hotel rooms to their passengers (and receiving commissions)
  • Flying from from smaller airports which have limited regular carrier services
  • Flying only to to leisure destinations
  • Marketing to leisure passengers traveling to warm-weather destinations
  • A significant focus on  low operational costs
  • A “RyanAir” feel
  • profitability every year since 2003, unusual for an airline


An extended Jet Blue Model

I would like to see Air Australia go after the JetBlue model. JetBlue also a US airline aims to be low cost but in terms of passenger amenities and services, they outshine the big carriers. I think there is room for JetBlue to go really radical to attract passengers:

  • Market the legroom advantage heavily (modelled after JetBlue in USA)
  • Ditch Business Class and fill the space with one class seats (again JetBlue in USA) simplifying operations
  • Reduce their fare types from five to two
  • keep the one bag free (Southwest in USA markets this heavily)
  • Offer wifi on all planes at a fee (AirTran in USA)
  • Install seat back entertainment (to compete against other carriers) -possibly a couple of free options and the rest pay per view
  • Offer free Tea and Coffee in departure lounges (AirTran)
  • Offer free drinks on board (Southwest in USA)
  • Emphasise Australian snacks and drinks on board
  • Market the snacks heavily- offerring deals and options
  • Paint each tail as a different Australian animal (like Frontier in the USA)
  • Push the sale of duty free on board ensuring duty free is a significant part of revenue (following Korean Air)
  • Provide an Australian candy/sweet like a Minty upon landing and approach (Air New Zealand still provides candy in this situation)
All of this will require capital. Capital, I am not sure Air Australia has. Personally, I would be fairly pessimistic about their future but am ready to be surprised.

I will report on my first Air Australia flight next Tuesday.

Their website:


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