Airline satisfaction surveys

Results for our international and domestic airline satisfaction surveys.
 
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  • Updated:22 Apr 2009
 

01 .International airline survey

In brief

  • Value for money and a convenient schedule are the most common reasons for choosing airlines for international flights.
  • Budget airlines have changed how passengers define “value for money”.
  • Singapore Airlines remains the benchmark airline for overall customer satisfaction, followed by Emirates and Air New Zealand. All three airlines scored well in most attributes, despite being more expensive.

See our lastest Airline Satisfaction Survey.

Please note: this information was current as of April 2009 but is still a useful guide to today's market. For more recent information, see our Airline satisfaction survey 2010.

International airline satisfaction survey

CHOICE’s recent survey of nearly 3500 respondents who had flown on international flights in the past three years indicates that convenient flight schedules, a good standard of service and value for money are the top reasons for selecting an airline. With the Australian debut in July of Delta Air Lines, which has negotiated an interline agreement with Virgin Blue’s trans-Pacific offshoot, V Australia, a price war will be waged between the newcomers and established carriers Qantas, United Airlines and Air New Zealand.

At the time of our last survey of international travellers, budget airlines Jetstar and Virgin Blue were new carriers on the international scene, but both have since intensified competition on the limited routes they fly. While no-frills budget airlines are usually good value for shorter domestic getaways, they’re not as appealing for international flights, when a better menu, seat comfort, service and in-flight entertainment help relieve the tedium and discomfort of long hours in the air.

Nevertheless, Jetstar and Virgin Blue are now significant players in the current international market; our survey reveals that over the past three years, about 5% of respondents chose Jetstar economy for their international flights and 3% chose Virgin Blue.

See the results of our domestic airline survey.

 

Reasons-for-international-a 

 

Using the table

Respondents were asked why they chose the international airline they last flew with and were given a list of reasons from which they chose all that applied. The table shows percentages of respondents who chose each option. The fi gures in square brackets are 2007 survey results. The breakdown comprises: Economy: 74%; Premium economy: 3%; Business: 21%; First class: 2%

Table notes
* Best flIght schedules was not included in the 2007 survey.
(A) Jetstar and Virgin Blue were not included in the 2007 survey results because of their small sample sizes.

Choosing the carrier

Although a high standard of service and value for money are still key determinants of which international airline consumers choose, our survey found travellers also give precedence to carriers with the most convenient flight schedules. This option was not offered in our 2007 survey, but has 36% of the respondents flagging it as a common reason for selecting an airline in this recent survey.

Frequent flyer points is also an important reason for choosing an airline, as a relatively high percentage of respondents who flew with Qantas did so because of its frequent flyer program (60%). Respondents also chose to fly with Qantas because of its good standard of service (33%) and safety record, although on both counts, they've lost major ground since the 2007 survey.

 
 

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02.International satisfaction results

 
Satisfaction-with-internati

 

 

 

Using the table
Respondents were asked to rate the last international carrier they fl ew with in the previous three years (economy only) from “very satisfied” to “very dissatisfied”. The scores were then converted to a percentage. The figures in square brackets are the results for the 2007 survey.

Table notes
(A) Jetstar and Virgin Blue were not included in the 2007 survey results because of their small sample sizes.

Satisfaction results


Respondents rated Virgin Blue (VB) average for overall satisfaction (65%). The budget airline was not included in our 2007 survey results due to its fairly recent launch and small sample size.

Despite offering a relatively limited number of international routes, more respondents selected Jetstar and VB for their value for money than any other carrier. Safety record is not as common a reason for selecting either airline, as it is with Qantas and Singapore Airlines. Jetstar has a definitive edge over VB in offering a wide range of Asian destinations such as Phuket, Siem Reap and Tokyo.

By contrast, VB, through its sister carriers Polynesian Blue and Pacific Blue, services international routes to Pacific islands such as Fiji, Samoa, the Solomon Islands and New Zealand. Qantas’ recent decision to transfer its NZ domestic routes to subsidiary Jetstar should give VB competition on this route.

With the possibility of trans-Tasman flights being reclassified as domestic routes, fares between Australia and New Zealand could be slashed to domestic benchmark prices as Air New Zealand, Qantas, Jetstar and Pacific Blue engage in a price war.

V Australia, the Virgin Blue offshoot, now offers daily direct flights between Sydney and Los Angeles, and is expected to add Brisbane and Melbourne to its Australia-US flights later in the year. It first took to the skies in February with promotional return flights of just under $1000 – about $500 less than what you’d have paid for a comparable Qantas ticket.

Our respondents rated Virgin Blue, Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Air New Zealand about the same for value for money, while VB's overall satisfaction score is comparable to seasoned fliers such as Emirates, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines (notwithstanding a smaller sample size). This shows that no-frills carriers have an expanding niche in the Australian market.

With Qantas and V Australia rolling out premium economy class for passengers who want more space and attention than economy class offers, but who do not want to pay business class fares, value for money is now being redefined – by consumers.

At a time when passenger volume and tourism revenue are contracting amid intense competition, value for money will turn primarily on price points and how each airline meets the service expectations of the bargain-hunting Aussie globetrotter.


03.Domestic airline survey

 

In brief

  • Frequent flyer programs still figure as strong reasons for selecting a domestic airline, but value for money is the clincher.
  • Qantas is still Australia’s most commonly used domestic airline, despite losing ground with consumers but Virgin Blue is now rated best airline overall for satisfaction.

See the results of our international airline survey.

Domestic airline satisfaction survey

Since Tiger Airways became Australia’s third budget airline in late 2007, domestic air travel has never been more affordable. With return airfares between some capitals now costing less than $50, including taxes, flying interstate is often cheaper than driving. Greater competition among domestic airlines is pushing prices down. But consumers still expect a reasonable standard of service, among other things, to rate an airline as providing “value for money”.

CHOICE’s recent survey of more than 4200 respondents who had flown on domestic airlines in the past three years found 40% cite value for money as a factor in their choice of airline – the same percentage as our 2007 survey. About 32% say frequent flyer points are important, followed by 28% who say flight schedules are a reason they choose an airline.

04.Domestic satisfaction results

 
Domestis-airlines-satisfact

 

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.

Table notes
(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.

Toothless Tiger

 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

05.How we surveyed plus members comments

 

How we survey

Domestic

In November 2008, CHOICE invited 25,000 online and 16,358 magazine subscribers to take part in an online survey on domestic and international airlines – 4625 surveys were completed within the one-month deadline. To participate in the survey, respondents must have travelled by plane in the previous three years. Of the total surveys received, 4307 respondents reported flying domestically within the past three years.

We wanted to find out:

  • Overall consumer satisfaction with domestic airlines for economy flights.
  • Which domestic airlines respondents used the most and why.
  • How the airlines fared in specific attributes compared with our last survey in 2007.

International

In November 2008, CHOICE invited 25,000 online and 16,358 magazine subscribers to take part in an online survey of domestic and international airlines – 4625 surveys were completed within the one-month deadline. To participate in the survey, respondents must have travelled by plane in the previous three years. Of the total surveys received, 3486 respondents reported flying internationally within the past three years, of which 2564 flew economy.

We wanted to find out:

  • Consumers’ overall satisfaction with international airlines for international flights.
  • Which international airlines they chose most and why.
  • How the airlines fared in specifi c attributes compared with our 2007 survey.

What members say about domestic travel

Our domestic survey included an open response section where subscribers could air praise and/or grievances about specific airlines. These are some of the highlights – and low points – for each carrier.

Qantas

“Good old Qantas – record-holders for late running and cancellations. I travel often – two to three return flights per month – and the perception is that they are getting worse. Their phony apologies really grate with me.”
George, NSW

“I have flown with Jetstar, Virgin and Qantas a number times in the past three years. My preference is to always fly with Qantas as the level of service is superior. Being a frequent flyer you have access to Qantas Club, express baggage and valet parking, which the other airlines do not offer.”
Penni, Qld

“I’m concerned about Qantas management’s attitude towards investing in maintenance and airline safety. The evidence suggests that Qantas’ stringent safety standards have been relaxed. Once I spend my frequent flyer points or lose my Gold status I’ll seriously consider flying other airlines.”
Matthew, SA

Jetstar

“When I last flew with Jetstar, the seat I had to occupy had not been cleaned and had some unidentifiable stains on the seat which I had to avoid sitting on. Not nice.”
Gerald, Vic

“I’ve flown Jetstar twice in the last two years. It offers good value. It could best be described as a functional, no-frills airline, which suits me fine for the relatively short-haul flights I make.”
Grant, Qld

Virgin Blue

“A Virgin flight attendant held a trivia quiz and most passengers took part. After announcing the winner and presenting a prize he finished off with a few jokes. It was the best flight we have had.”
Leo, Vic

“Always made to feel special – as though you’re the only one on the flight. Staff are friendly and fun-loving, with a sense of humour, but professional in their job.”
Bernadette, Qld

“Virgin aircrew tend to joke around. On one flight, a member of the aircrew pretended she had her mother on the phone who had called her at work, and all the while she was broadcasting this over the intercom. It is one thing for crew to be friendly but another for them to be childish and not funny.”
Michael, Vic

Tiger Airways

“Tiger offers excellent value. We bought three return flights from Melbourne to the Gold Coast for a total of $300. The flights left on time and in-flight service was more than you would expect of a budget airline.”
Neil, Vic

“The ‘no-frills’ airlines, such as Tiger, are just that. For tall or overweight people, seat comfort is marginal. Particularly for tall people, a flight of two hours can be indescribably uncomfortable. The staff on these flights appear to be under pressure, so service is marginal.”
Dan, Vic

“We booked five seats on Tiger. We arrived at the counter one hour before the flight and were ticketed. They had booked our two toddlers and eight-year-old in seats next to complete strangers. The ground staff said it was our fault for not arriving more than an hour before a flight. The pilot (thankfully) refused to take off until we were seated together.”
Steve, Qld

Reginal Express (REX)

“The Rex staff are incredibly friendly, know my favourite seat, and offer a glass of wine on the way home!”
Alan, Qld

“I have always had the feeling that ‘you can take it or leave it’ because we live in the country, and we have no other choice.”
Kenneth, NSW


This article last updated April 2009