I have decided to write this article in regards to me being inspired by my love for aviation and flying with airlines that have a less than glamorous reputation for their safety in the skies!
Below are some of the major indicators that contribute to the making of an above average/decent airline company. It’s a sad fact that within a short space of around 60 years commercial passenger flights have seen their birth (around the 1940s), rise (1950s/60s), their heyday of flying (1970s/80s), and sadly their gradual demise to what has transformed a once luxurious way of travel to one where we are beginning to see airline tickets being sold for less than a pound sterling (excluding taxes!). Budget airlines are good for short haul travel where smaller aircraft can be used (such as the Airbus A320 or the Boeing 737 Series) to full capacity and planes can be turned around within 30 minutes; but for medium to long haul travel (i.e. more than 4 hours flight time) there will always be a need for some sort of luxury because of the long distances and the other fuel costs involved. Although not the main ponint of discussion for this blog article, nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that IATA (International Air Transport Association), recently predicted the airline industry will make a snowballing loss of €11 billion by the end of 2009, a rapid increase from the projected €9 billion estimated earlier in the year. The full impact of these losses is yet to be felt despite over 65 airlines failing over the course of 12 months from December 2008.
When booking their flights, for most people, the cost is the number one factor which makes them choose their particular airline. Safety is probably at the back of everyone’s mind once they know which airline they are flying (depending on how old or new, good or bad the aircraft and its engines are!). It’s too deep a subject to get into so I am going to keep this brief. On the whole it is reasonably safer to fly than to cross a busy street. However in the following cases, safety can never be played around with:
In July 2009, the European Commission published a list of over 90 International Airline companies that are banned from flying into European Airspace and airports within the European Union. These include the national airlines of Congo, Angola (TAAG- only allowed to fly to Portugal), North Korea (Air Koryo), and Afghanistan (Ariana Afghan). The full list is available here.
Gone are the days when airline meals were something to look forward to when you fly. Nowadays almost all economy class In-flight meals are the same, which is why I try to fly Business Class most of the time - at least there is a proper choice available. One of the best In-flight meals website ever is www.airlinemeals.net where passengers could upload their meal photos and give a personal review of the food, the service and the flight in general. The website has been dormant since 2007, but you can still browse through the various world airlines listed. Surprisingly some of the best meals are served on some of the less well known airlines (like Syrian Air, Tunis Air and BWIA West Indian* as an example). * BWIA has been rebranded as "Caribbean Airlines".
The sad thing about In-flight meals is that so much food gets wasted after a flight, that many airline companies are thinking of cutting down on giving away free meals. The only proper option left here is that passengers’ can purchase their desired in-flight meal.
My idea is that there should be a special chain of “In-flight meal restaurants” located at all airport departure lounges around the world where passengers, who wish to do so, can purchase their desired In-flight meal and drink prior to boarding the aircraft. Once on the plane they can store their food; and eat it whenever they like without anyone telling them when to eat etc. The concept can be similar to MacDonald’s (just as an example), but of course I am not saying it should be a fast food chain (come on, it needs to be more healthy ad better tasting at least!)- rather the In-flight meal restaurant chain should just specialize in providing healthy and delicious In-flight meals to passengers. In actual fact this concept should be tried at one airport to start with, and if the concept works I believe in the long term it would be a very cost effective way to introduce In-flight meals to airlines. The downside of this idea is that the food labels will not be branded to any particular airline company, but it will be a one common global brand which will be on everyone’s lips.
Aircraft type and seat
If you know which aircraft you are flying in (usually it states this on the ticket or when you check in online), then from the website www.seatguru.com you can find out which seat is suitable to sit on for your particular flight. The best seats are usually next to the exit and away from the galley and toilets. The vast majority of new aircraft (like the Airbus A340-600, Airbus A380, Boeing B777-200LR and Boeing B777-300) have state of the art In-flight entertainment systems embedded to the back of every seat from where passengers can listen to music, watch movies, play games and even read the in-flight magazine on the screen! Yes, sadly some airlines are even phasing out the traditional hardcopy In-flight magazines to save weight costs. So even the In-flight magazines are becoming collector’s items now- quick! Get your last copy before it gets replaced by the on-screen version!
Most passengers actually are not aware of what aircraft they fly in, and even if they were told of the aircraft type, I highly doubt that most would even know what the words A320, B747-400 etc. mean. People don’t care much, as long as they safely get from A to B. It’s like when you sit in a bus, a taxi, train or a boat; no one cares or notices who’s manufactured the machine- unless of course if you happened to be offered a “Mini” as a taxi when you expected it to be a BMW or something!. But when it comes to aircraft it is a different story- you have to approach it with an unusual line of angle. I suppose it’s because it’s a different way of travelling to what you are normally used to travelling on a daily basis.
The professionalism of the Airline Crew
A perfect example of how not to behave when flying a plane was displayed to the world recently by an Air India crew on a flight from Dubai to New Delhi where, according to media reports, the Pilots and Cabin Crew had a mid-air scuffle at 37,000 feet. Not something that you would want to see or hear about when you know that the two people who are responsible from taking you safely from A to B are too busy fighting with each other rather than flying!
Other questions that people always wonder about are if the staff are generally friendly and professional. Do they serve the meals at the right time? Are the air hostesses polite when they speak to you? Is the Cabin Crew helpful if you cannot speak English? It’s easy to put aside the fact that being an Air Hostess is not an easy job either because you have to deal with various situations and different kinds of people from all cultures. In actual fact the job is sometimes too glamorized.
If you feel you have a point to make about the airline you travelled on then feel free to voice your personal review on www.airlinequality.com, a site which rates airlines according to a five star category, with the best airline company getting five stars and the worst getting one star or no stars at all.
The brand image
The company’s brand image and its name are two of the essential core elements what attract the passengers to use the airline in the first place. When someone goes through the procedure of booking their flights, apart from the costs and the timings of their potential flight, the most crucial questions are “Which airline is it?” Now, if the answer happens to be one of the major global brand leaders in the airline industry, such as, say for example, British Airways, United Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Emirates or any one of the other top airlines, then its highly likely there won’t be further questions coming out from people’s mouths. However, say if the airline company happens to be one of lesser known ones like, for example, Syrian Air, Mexicana, TAM Brazilian and others of a similar standing, then you are bound to get a barge of questions related to the company’s standing in the aviation industry. But then again you can have an excellent brand image but the rest of the package of the service is not worth mentioning- just a few examples are: American Airlines, Northwest Airlines, KLM (poor in-flight service), Air India (one can write a book on this one!) and Aeroflot (enough said already I think!).
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, I personally fear that in the USA and across Europe, flying is no longer the luxury way of travelling; and globally, flying is not glamorous anymore because people treat it in a similar way to catching a bus or a taxi (if you fly on a private jet!). European and American flyers won’t have much choice of top branded airlines; instead the skies are going to be dominated by the likes of Easyjet, Ryanair, Flybe, and other low cost airlines. The mainstream market for aviation is in the Middle East (Esp. Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways) and Asia (Esp. Singapore Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Air China, China Eastern, Kingfisher, Malaysia Airlines, Jet Airways and Cathay Pacific). I have just provided a few key indicators that may determine the quality of an airline. Of course, just like any other product, you cannot judge what the quality of an airline company is like until you try it yourself. Let us conclude this blog by saying that a good airline is one where the passengers are well informed of any changes that may occur (such as a delay for example), and where they are in the full knowledge of being safe and comfortable from their point of origin to their destination.
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