News analysis

Don't get in a tizzy over SIA's lower airline ranking

Singapore Airlines (SIA) dropped from second to third place in what is touted as the world's largest annual survey of travellers. So what?

Emirates is first and Qatar Airways, second.

As expected, the results announced by London research firm Skytrax, which says it garnered views of 19.2 million respondents from more than 104 countries, prompted a flurry of comments from netizens.

The views were mixed, with some saying SIA has indeed lost its edge to rivals while others insist the Singapore carrier is still a great way to fly.

The question is, should we even be paying attention to such rankings and surveys? And so what if SIA slipped by one spot?

 

Airline surveys and polls are a dime a dozen, conducted mainly by research houses and travel magazines using different methods and targeted at different groups.

What is more important is for airlines to monitor the frequency and nature of complaints from actual and targeted customers, and to fix problems when they occur.

Some involve face-to-face interviews with travellers but many are typically based on collation of online submission of feedback and answers to questionnaires.

This means there is little if any control over who the respondents are, which must surely affect the reliability of the findings.

Some surveys boast a large pool of interviewees. But soliciting the views of a select group of well-travelled individuals may be a more fruitful exercise than talking to different passengers randomly.

And really, there is nothing to stop an airline from actively encouraging employees and travellers to submit feedback, either by handing out survey forms itself, or by providing the relevant links on its website.

The bottom line is, there is no perfect survey or ranking method, so let's not read too much into the different findings.

In fact, in 2012, Skytrax got into a bit of a fix with the UK Advertising Standards Authority for allegedly making misleading claims.

This was after Britain-based Kwikchex, which takes on the task of verifying critical ad information, lodged a complaint.

The authority eventually ruled that Skytrax could not fully back up all its claims, including one that stated its rankings were based on "checked and trusted" reviews by "real travellers with real opinions".

Surveys are useful insofar as they help airlines gauge their performance levels but moving a notch or two either way does not make one better or worse, said assistant professor of marketing Anirban Mukherjee of the Singapore Management University.

What is more important is for airlines to monitor the frequency and nature of complaints from actual and targeted customers, and to fix problems when they occur.

The aim is not to please everyone, but those who matter.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2016, with the headline 'Don't get in a tizzy over SIA's lower airline ranking'. Print Edition | Subscribe