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Can we learn anything from Which? surveys of the best and worst airlines?

Plane Talk: Premium brands consistently shine, while the cheapest budget airlines are shunned

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Tuesday 27 February 2024 12:24 GMT
Long-haul favourite: Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300
Long-haul favourite: Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300 (Singapore Airlines)

The more things change in aviation, the more some things – such as Which? members’ views of airlines – stay the same.

You may have read our report on the latest passenger satisfaction survey by the consumer group. It does the traveller a favour by analysing delay and cancellation data from the Civil Aviation Authority: British Airways grounded one flight in 30 at less than a day’s notice in the year to September 2023, Which? says.

Flying in and out of the world’s most slot-constrained airport, London Heathrow, BA is singularly vulnerable to bad weather and events such as the Nats August bank holiday 2023 air-traffic control system failure.

Once the metrics move from statistics to subjectivity, the preferences of Which? members are interesting.

The two lowest-cost airlines serving the UK, Ryanair and Wizz Air, were rated worst in short-haul. Top places went to Jet2. The Leeds-based carrier is excellent, but I defy anyone who has also flown on Ryanair to point out any variation in seat comfort between the two airlines. Yet while Europe’s biggest budget airline scored just one star for comfortable seating, Jet2 won three stars.

Likewise, in the short-haul category, British Airways gets three stars for seat comfort while Wizz Air gets only one. Having flown on both in the past fortnight, the only discernible difference between the two is that Wizz Air’s are newer.

Meanwhile, easyJet comes in for criticism for “uncomfortable seats, poor food and grubby planes”. And Ryanair offers worse “value for money” than Air France and Scandinavian Airlines.

Which? also hits out at “sneaky extra fees for luggage hiking up the final price” – something of a mystery to me because all the airlines in the survey specify what they charge for baggage when you book a flight.

Long-haul, the bottom three comprise Lufthansa of Germany, Air Canada and British Airways. But the winners line up like this:

  • Singapore Airlines
  • Emirates
  • Virgin Atlantic

Remarkably, that is exactly the same ranking as in a much earlier Which? survey: 1997. The only difference is that Air New Zealand, which joined them in the top four, has stopped flying to the UK and fallen out of the survey.

Maintaining table-topping quality is a tribute to these airlines, as well as the consistency of the Which? readership.

Time, though, for my own survey – in which all the airlines based in the UK and Ireland get five stars. Ryanair and easyJet are the safest carriers in the world and have great fares; I fly on Wizz Air frequently, with excellent service – which I also get on Jet2.

Aer Lingus and Loganair have super-friendly staff – as does British Airways, which also has an unbeatable cabin baggage allowance (two cases, each 23kg).

Long-haul, UK travellers are in the best position of anyone in Europe because BA and Virgin Atlantic compete ferociously with each other and with great airlines like Singapore Airlines and Emirates. Thanks, everyone.

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