Air Transport World

Knowing what - and why. (why are some airlines surveyed as being the best while others are not) (includes article on a survey conducted by Landor Associates)

They start to show up late in the year, like Christmas presents appearing magically under the tree. With great fanfare, magazines begin showing the results of surveys, listing which airlines have the best service, which are best internationally, which are best domestically, which are best for on-time service, which serve the best food, the best wine, have the best flight attendants, ad infinitum. However, unlike the joys of Christmas, the polls showing which airlines are most beloved by travelers are just as likely to show those that are not.

For those airlines that are ranked near the top, it's a moment in the sun. After all, every organization loves to see itself ranked at or near the top of any poll.

For those airlines that are ranked toward the bottom, it's time for cries of outrage and protest, normally centering on the validity of the polls. And in a way, they have a point.

At best, most polls are arbitrary, with the results based on either educated guesses or less-than-scientific random sampling.

Conde Nast Traveler magazine polls its readership annually, asking for a ranking of the airlines based on scheduling, punctuality, cabin service and in-flight meals. The poll is part of the magazine's annual search for the top 100 "best names in travel," citing the best cities, hotels, resorts and, of course, airlines.

Travel agents' ratings

The American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) asks its members to rate airlines based on five areas: Best service to travel-agency clients; best service to travel agents; best toll-free telephone-number system; best sales material and best overall service for travel agents and their clients.

Each year ATW selects a variety of airlines and organizations that have excelled during the year, including the Airline of the Year. This selection is based a compilation of statistics such as financial, traffic and on-time performance, combined with the personal opinions of its editors. Although the editors of ATW are highly experienced in the air-transport industry, it still is an arbitrary process. As such, it is hardly a marketing tool, although the prestige of an ATW award certainly is valued as a promotional tool.

Enter marketing research. While it is nice to see your airline at the top of a list-or, conversely, disturbing to see it at the bottom-it is more important to know why or how. Any airline worth its salt-and which wishes to stay in business for any length of time-does market research to find out who its customers are, what they expect and whether the airline is fulfilling those expectations. …

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