The Best and Worst Airlines of 2011

Since travelling is literally my business, you can imagine how often I get asked about my favorite (and least favorite) airlines. It’s a subject about which I’m not coy – there are airlines that are distinctly better and worse than others. As I come to the end of another year of travel, I’m ready to share for the first time my preferred rankings with one and all.

Without further ado, here are my 2011 rankings:

Best to Worst Airline Rankings

1) Delta
2) Kingfisher
3) Alitalia
4) Jet Airways
5) Iberia
6) Swiss
7) British Airways
8) Malev
9) SN Brussels
10) American
11) EL AL

Best Airline: Delta
Why Delta? Two reasons set Delta above the rest of airline carriers:

  • Excellent frequent flier program. If you fly as much as I do, being able to earn miles or upgrades in a generous, hassle-free manner is reason enough to fly Delta. They constantly enticed me with bonuses during the year that made it very easy to reach the top elite status and rewarded me handsomely once reaching.
  • Excellent customer service. Delta demonstrates that it values its customers. After a couple of unforeseen incidents with Delta flights (as happens with all carriers), we received immediate letters of apology as well as monetary compensation. In certain instances they went above the call of duty to make sure we were properly satisfied.

Worst Airlines: American and EL AL

Why American? With its next to the bottom rating, American Airlines may seem a surprising choice, but here’s why this airline ranked so low:

  • Poor customer service. My opinion of American’s customer service dropped tremendously in the past year. Perhaps their loss of customer focus coincides with the company going into bankruptcy. Frankly, the most caring people I’ve met recently at American are the sky caps who work at their airports. Other than that from check-in agents ate their Flagship Counter to the Admirals Club their level of service on and off the aircraft declined tremendously in 2011.   You’ll be seeing much less of me on their aircraft in 2012.
  • Poor aircraft quality. I’ve noticed a dramatic decrease in the quality of the company’s aircraft. In the past month alone I was on two aircraft (transatlantic) in which video systems didn’t work and with seats that wouldn’t recline (in business class mind you).   The flight attendants were able to do very little but furthermore their customer service could do no more thana right a standard apology letter (not even directly addressing the issue).

Why EL AL? What a disappointment! The reasons are many:

  • Frequently lost or damaged luggage. I’ve lost luggage on EL AL flights on numerous occasions in 2011. Never have I been offered so much as even a toothbrush. (As a matter of fact, it was stated by their less than friendly customer service agent that they wouldn’t provide one, and we should be lucky that they would deliver it.) Lost luggage has sometimes arrived days later, damaged at that with EL AL willing to take (rather I should say deny) any responsibility.
  • Poor customer service. When incidents such as lost or damaged luggage occur, there seems to be no one with whom to speak about the problem. Months after an incident, compensation is still not received. When something goes wrong, there’s a tendency to blame “security” and if that doesn’t work it’s always the passenger’s fault! At EL AL the “customer is always wrong”. For 2011 EL AL truly has earned the reputation as the worst customer service around.
  • Poor employee attitudes. It’s not just responses to customer service incidents that highlight this problem. EL AL employees seem to treat customers as cattle, rather than people. There’s no recognition – I’ve heard in all cabins on EL AL (yes even in first class) passengers referred to as seat numbers rather than by name.

When I flew EL AL in 2011 I was made to feel that they think they are doing me a favor by letting me fly, even when I’m sitting in business or first class. The attitude is pretty amazing. Let’s face it: as much as airfare costs, people like to feel a bit pampered – or at least respected — when they fly.

To be fair, here are the rules I’ve given myself: My rankings focus only on airlines with which I personally flew in 2011, and only airlines with which I had at least two flights were included in the ranking list. I had at least eight flights each on three of the airlines which anchored the top and bottom of my listings – Delta, American, and EL AL, so I felt particularly comfortable in rating them. (Because I didn’t have at least two flights on any Asian carriers, these airlines were omitted from the rankings, but I suspect that they would have received top scores if they had been eligible for inclusion.)

As a business person in the travel industry, I may be more sensitive than most to the airline that either goes the extra mile (no pun intended) or treats me with less than the utmost courtesy. But success in the travel industry is based primarily on people’s perception of their customer service and how they are treated during a travel experience. The 2011 best and worst airlines may have some lessons for all of us about how to do – or not do—business. Let’s see who may care as we enter 2012.

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