16 January 2014

Air NZ wins "airline rating" award, so what? UPDATED

It's simple fodder for New Zealand "reporters" - a company called Airline Ratings, which is self styled as "the world’s foremost safety and product rating website" awards Air NZ "airline of the year".

So what happens?  The company press release is substantively replicated on the NZ Herald, with little analysis, just an interview from Air NZ which of course is happy to use it as a marketing opportunity.

However, did anyone think to ask who the hell Airline Ratings is, and whether there is anything substantive about this rating?

I know my first reaction (and that of some people on frequent flyer forums) was "who the hell is this"?

It was founded by Geoffrey Thomas, who "has been commentating on the airline industry for 25 years and as well as writing for Australian Aviation is the Senior Editor with US based Air Transport World".

So he's an aviation journalist.  That's not to disparage or judge his writing on these matters, but is his operation robustly independent and able to be credible?  He claims on his website to have an editorial team, but again, unless they have flown extensively on all classes on a wide selection of airlines, can they really talk

The website looks impressive, but there is precious little on the methodology used to rate and moreover, there is no material that is more than a year old.  So it looks remarkably like a relatively new outfit that is unlikely to have actually sampled the products of all of the airlines concerned.

It has a section for passenger comments, but the numbers it gets are pitiful.  11 for British Airways? 15 for United?  Air NZ gets 14, yet it is a fraction of the size of the other two.  Of course Air Koryo has no reviews, but neither does  

The site has lounge reviews for six lounges around the world. Six! None in Europe, one in Asia (Phuket), and even only one in Australia.

There are no reviews of food.

There are 16 airport reviews, which oddly don't actually include some of the airports where lounges are, and even includes a clear mistake (Virgin America is not in Terminal 2 at LAX).

There are only 16 editorial reviews of airlines, and they are very amateurish.  Take this, for a US domestic flight "United's Boeing 787 does not have any child-free zones, onboard lounges, or on board shops, as with some larger twin-aisle long-range aircraft".  Yes, oddly enough lounges or on board shops for economy class passengers are unknown.  "The gentleman behind me was particularly large so i did not recline the seat" so, is that normal on these flights?

"I know for a fact it is lot more generous than most regional airlines around the world but if you are hungry get a snack at the airport first"  Really?  You have few reviews of such airlines.

It doesn't give me great confidence.  There are lots of airlines listed, but many have little information and outside Australasian airlines, the information about customer service has accuracy issues.

So can you credibly believe airlineratings.com about airline quality? 

Yes and No.

Yes in that claiming Emirates, Cathay and Air NZ have the best first, business and premium economy classes isn't far off the mark, although Qantas for long haul economy is a bit more questionable (I notice Qantas is the only airline sponsoring the site, not that it helped for the other classes).  

However, my main doubts are that the company website clearly indicates only a year of reviews and very very few reviews of any airline products (and a lack of editorial control over passenger reviews, some of which have next to no content).  Air NZ wins best airline overall, but only wins in premium economy with a product that it only operates on two routes.  How does that add up?  Shouldn't it also win the best airline of the region it operates it? No?

The conclusion is that these ratings operations are questionable in their veracity and methodology, and always raise doubts about independence.   After all, how does anyone make money from such an operation?  Who is willing to pay to get an airline rated?

So reporters ought to be a bit more sceptical about these sorts of ratings, they ought to question those who rate as to how they made the assessment, and question them about shortcomings of an airline (for Air NZ the obvious one is that it has added a seat in economy class on its 777s to 10 abreast compared to 9 abreast).

However, I've long ago lost belief that there is much in the way of investigative journalism in the NZ mainstream media, they much prefer to edit some press releases, ask for comment and publish it.

UPDATE:  You see the same banal reporting in the past day about the Air NZ-Singapore Airlines deal.  Stuff essentially published the press release and the NZ Herald was little better.  Nothing to comment that this reduces competition between NZ and Europe, may push Jetstar out of the Auckland-Singapore market and querying that Air NZ previously pulled out of the Singapore route because it was unprofitable.  Not that the deal doesn't make commercial sense, but it does mean that most long haul routes out of NZ are now dominated by Air NZ or airlines it is partnered up with.  I do wonder if there should just be bulletin board websites for company press releases to be aggregated, because there is virtually no value added here in analysis..


Anonymous said...

Good analysis Liberty. This Herald reporter Grant Bradley is on regular disclosed junkets given or arranged by Air NZ so I certainly don't expect any rigorous analysis of their business from this fellow.

workingman said...

Hi Scott

Interesting to see the blogged here. Is your Airline Service blog defunct now? I still have a link to it, so any postings there would still show up.

Of course this article is not really just about an airline, just another example of bad the media reports on anything now days.

Libertyscott said...

Anonymous: As long as he discloses it then fine, but it does leave him open to accusations that if he was more critical, he wouldn't get them.

Workingman: I haven't updated it in ages, but I am planning on doing so. Just only so much blogging one man can do!