Let's say you come across an airline with an unfamiliar name but a tempting airfare. Would you book it right away? Or, given that we travel in a world of tarmac delays and lost luggage, would you rather see what other flyers think about the airline before making your purchase?
It’s common practice to parse through
user reviews when choosing a hotel or restaurant, yet websites that review
flights, like Eezeer, Skytrax -- even TripAdvisor -- remain underused,
especially when it comes to many smaller or foreign airlines, where traveller
reviews could really help. Despite the commonly asked question, “How was your
flight?” travellers have not yet gotten into the habit of sharing reviews of
their flight online.
Cynics will say that reviews and ratings
for airlines don't matter. They think carriers have figured out exactly how the
public shops for plane tickets: people buy the cheapest seat, period. But new
technology that allows airlines to survey passengers in-flight may someday
prove the cynics wrong.
first A330-300 aircraft, which took flight in April, has a new entertainment
system that lets flyers rate in-flight movies via the seatback touch screen. The
system allows you see how the rest of the plane voted and also helps
the airline decide which movies to feature or drop from its menu. Virgin
Atlantic has bought ten planes with the entertainment system, which will slowly
be added to its fleet.
Other airlines could adopt this technology and use it
to let passengers provide feedback on their own flight
experience while in the air, which is easier than asking a traveller to do it
on their computer once they get home. If shared publicly, these in-flight
surveys could prove useful to other consumers, and the feedback might also help
airlines pinpoint which flight crews deserve recognition for providing great
However, it may be a decade until such in-flight
review systems gain wide traction. Airlines are reluctant to spend money on
amenities and regulatory bodies are slow to approve new technologies as safe
for flight, said Walé Adepoju, chief analyst for the consulting firm IMDC, which helps
to develop aircraft-based media and communications.
While we wait for airlines
to adopt this idea, here's a quick rundown of the current options for
biggest player in airline ratings is
also the giant of user-generated reviews, TripAdvisor.
On its flight search
can roll your mouse over an airline's name to see ratings by other travellers,
who can score carriers on eight measures, such as punctuality, baggage handling
and check-in experience.
Because traveller airline ratings only
began in January, few ratings have been submitted. This dearth is especially
apparent for less familiar airlines; there were recently no ratings for
AirBaltic and only a few for Finnair. But the potential is there. If more people
submitted ratings, the site would prove useful for travellers looking for the consensus
view on an airline before booking.
most innovative rating tool to date
is Eezeer (pronounced
"easier"). Its main service is to connect the Twitter conversations
happening between the customer service departments of major airlines like Delta
or JetBlue and their passengers. On the plus side, the tool uses the
geo-location feature of people's devices to confirm that they truly are where
they say they are when they file their comments. Eezeer's apps for Apple and
Android devices are also free and easy to consult while on the go. The
site is nearly useless for learning about small airlines, though. Since few
people are discussing those companies on Twitter at any given moment, Eezeer
has little to spotlight.
granddaddy of airline rating sites is Skytrax (oddly
found at airlinequality.com and
The site ranks airlines by one to five stars (with five stars being the highest
"quality") based on annual surveys conducted by a British-based
consultancy group. But the ratings don't always line up. Two airlines
might be both "four star", such as Air Berlin and Emirates, but their
in-flight experiences could be quite different in ways that would annoy one flyer
and please another. Skytrax is also the only site that takes plane model
into consideration, understanding
that on airlines with mixed fleets, new planes often offer a better experience.
But the age of the aircraft is considered a very minor factor. The survey has
dozens of categories, broken down by first class, business class, premium
economy and coach.
It would be helpful if Skytrax provided a
quick historical snapshot of rating trends, to see whether service is improving
or declining over time. Case in point: in 2006, British Airways had many more
stars in individual categories such as "cabin cleanliness", than it
does now. Yet you wouldn't know about the airline's recent slippage in some
categories by just glancing at the airline's current overall ratings.
For now, Skytrax's is
best read for its reviews left by travellers. These opinions can give you
a quick idea of what you're flight might be like.
flight safety is your main concern, you can research
accident data from the Flight Safety Foundation at aviation-safety.net.
Safety-minded travellers may also be interested in the European Union's airline
blacklist, which highlights more than 190 airlines
that aren't allowed to fly within the EU but that do fly elsewhere around the
The blacklist is controversial because
airlines may be added to it if EU officials find their governments' airline
regulators not up to EU standards. For example, all carriers based in the
Philippines are banned in the EU due to failed international audits of that
country's civil aviation board. But the nation's two largest airlines,
Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific, have young fleets and good safety
runner-up to all of these services is Airlikes. This
French-based tool has been operating for a year with similar functions for flyers
to rate and review airlines. Yet the site is too new to have enough reviews to
be useful. Consumers have rated only about 60 airlines so far.
best bet: Next time you find an airline with an
unfamiliar name but a tempting airfare, you can get a quick sense of what other
travellers think about it by reading the ratings on TripAdvisor's flight search
tool and the reviews on Skytrax.
do you think? Should review systems be implemented in-flight? Do review sites
work? Would you read airline reviews before booking? Share your thoughts on our
Sean O'Neill is the tech travel columnist for BBC Travel