Using the table
Respondents were asked to rate how satisfied they were across a range of attributes, with percentage ratings given in the table.
The numbers in square brackets indicate the results for the 2007 survey.
(A) Tiger Airways was not included in the 2007 survey.
* Slightly fewer respondents answered this question.
The battered kangaroo
Qantas’ frequent flyer scheme is still the chief reason respondents flew with the carrier. While standard of service is another, it appears to have slipped since our 2007 survey. Fewer respondents chose Qantas for its standard of service (29%, down from 38%), and respondents who say they would “definitely” recommend Qantas to others fell from 46% last survey to 39%.
Force of habit is another reason respondents opt for Qantas. Australians’ familiarity with the flying kangaroo helped it retain market share over Jetstar and VB, even though the number of respondents who chose Qantas is slightly down overall compared with our 2007 survey.
Our Airline Satisfaction Survey table, above, shows Qantas’ continuing fall from grace. All its scores are below average for economy class. A series of mechanical mishaps appears to have reduced confidence in the airline’s safety record over the past two years, with the survey showing 17% of respondents chose to fly Qantas domestically because of its safety record, compared with 22% in 2007. Even though it doesn’t trade on its safety record, Qantas has been perceived as one of the safest airlines since its mention in the 1988 movie Rain Man.
A Qantas spokesperson defended the airline’s poor rating with respondents, telling CHOICE that “Australians have extremely high expectations of Qantas”. She says operations were significantly affected last year by industrial action by some of the airline’s engineers, “but we are now back to the industry-leading punctuality we were achieving before the action began”.
On the safety issue, the spokesperson concedes Qantas “did experience a small number of in-flight incidents that generated significant media coverage”.
Not feeling so Blue
Virgin Blue topped the survey for overall satisfaction, with 74% who had flown with the airline commending its value for money. Since its entry into the Australian market in 2000 with only two aircraft, it has expanded its fleet to at least 68, with flights to 27 domestic locations weekly. The airline has also captured more than 31% of the domestic market – a claim reflected in both our 2007 and current survey.
Among its high rankings for nearly every attribute (see Reasons for Choosing a Domestic Airline), staff service in particular figured as a strong reason for choosing VB. The friendly crew and quirky in-flight entertainment by crew drew favourable comments, with the exception of a handful who find the on-board banter irritating.
Complaints about delayed flights, poor legroom and having to pay for extra baggage seemed to be offset by VB’s service and Velocity Rewards frequent flyer program, with 57% of passengers saying they would definitely recommend the airline to others.
Jetstar or dimmed star?
Launched by Qantas in 2004 as a low-cost domestic competitor to VB, Jetstar rated well for value for money, but little else. Its service standard does not figure highly as a reason for choosing the budget airline, but 65% nominated value for money as an incentive. Only 33% who flew Jetstar’s domestic service say they would “definitely” recommend the airline to others – the lowest of all domestic carriers in this survey.
Just 2% of our survey respondents flew with Tiger Airways, which operates routes from every capital city except Sydney, Darwin and Brisbane (although it does fly to the Gold Coast from Adelaide and Melbourne). It has the lowest overall satisfaction score for economy flights and respondents do not find its flight schedules particularly convenient, but they overwhelmingly choose the airline for its value for money.
In fact, it is one of the only reasons respondents selected the carrier. Tiger has in the past offered one-way flights between Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart starting from $19.95, including taxes (but excluding additional baggage costs).
However, such bargain flights come at a cost – only 40% of respondents who flew with Tiger said they would “definitely” recommend it to others, and 11% said they would “definitely not” do so. Poor standard of service was the common criticism cited.
The Rex monopoly
The overall satisfaction ratings are average for Regional Express (Rex), a local airline that flies travellers from cities to regional areas, such as Sydney to Dubbo and Melbourne to Mount Gambier. The airline took top ranking in our 2007 survey with an overall satisfaction score of 79%, and although it slipped to second place this time around, the 104 passengers (or 2% of survey respondents) who use the airline still rate it well. However, many feel the airline does not represent great value for money.
Weathering the storm
Since our last survey, Virgin Blue has maintained a high satisfaction rating in almost all areas. Qantas, on the other hand, has lost ground with passengers on most fronts, from its service standards to its safety record. Jetstar still falls short of the average for in-flight service, and while Tiger stands out for its value for money, it is lacking in other areas.
It will be a juggling act for airlines to maintain the service standards and value for money consumers expect at the same time as passenger volumes tumble. And they need to do this in the current economic climate, which sees them posting million-dollar losses while having to slash prices.
The first victim was Virgin Blue. After it announced in February it could be cutting 400 positions, making executive pay cuts and grounding five jets to cope with a drop in travel and a fare war with Jetstar, Rex further undermined VB’s position by suggesting the budget airline was vulnerable to a takeover.
Our survey confirms intrepid Australians are making the most of the competitive domestic carrier market, with value for money and frequent flyer incentives the primary drawcards. Airline satisfaction, however, now means low cost as well as good service for consumers.
This article last updated April 2009