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Ignore the Usual Awards: Is South African Airways Actually the Best Airline in the World?

Ignore the Usual Awards: Is South African Airways Actually the Best Airline in the World?

Is South African Airways Actually the Best Airline in the World?

It feels like we’re in the midst of airline awards season at the moment and as usual, there aren’t many surprises.  The latest results from hotel and airline rating site Tripadvisor put Singapore Airlines as the number 1 airline in the world, with Qatar Airways and Taiwanese carrier EVA Air following close behind. also awarded Singapore Airlines the top spot and so too did the Skytrax World Airline Awards.

Singapore Airlines is clearly doing a lot of things right but according to, the carrier doesn’t even make the Top 20 list of the world’s best airlines when you judge it based on on-time performance and claims processing performance.  In fact, this way of rating airlines throws up some really interesting results, with the debt-laden South African Airways winning the race as the world’s number 1 airline, ahead of 134 rivals.

And perhaps this is a better way of judging airlines?  After all, how good an airline is can be a really subjective exercise but what passengers have consistently said they want is to arrive at their destination on time.  And when things do go wrong, surely we just want an airline to handle our complaint without delay?

By these measures, Europe’s ‘most hated’ airline Ryanair actually becomes one of Europe’s best airlines.  The Irish low-cost airline is Europe’s most punctual airline with only 14% of flights delayed by more than 15 minutes.  That compares to an industry average of 25%, while rival easyJet recorded nearly 25% of its flights delayed by more than 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, nearly 40% of TAP Air Portugal’s flights were delayed and the airline took on average 156 days to resolve a compensation claim.  In fact, worldwide around 24% of all flights were delayed by 15 minutes or more and on average each delay stretched to 47 minutes.

Many airlines were also pretty poor at handling complaints, with carriers taking on average four months to deal with compensation claims.

Best Global Airlines in 2018

  1. South African Airways (SA)
  2. SAS Scandinavian (SK)
  3. KLM (KL)
  4. Austrian Airlines (OS)
  5. Ryanair (FR)
  6. WestJet (WS)
  7. American Airlines (AA)
  8. Easy Jet (EZY)
  9. Finnair (AY)
  10. Flybe (BE)

Worst Airlines in 2018

  1. Tunisair (TU)
  2. Bulgaria Air (FB)
  3. Royal Brunei Airlines (BI)
  4. Pakistan International Airlines (PK)
  5. Corsair (SS)
  6. Philippine Airlines ( PR)
  7. TAP Portugal (TP)
  8. Edelweiss Air ( WK)
  9. WOW Air (WOW)
  10. Thomas Cook Airlines (MT)

Best Airlines in Europe in 2018

  1. SAS Scandinavian (SK)
  2. KLM (KL):
  3. Austrian Airlines (OS)
  4. Ryanair (FR)
  5. Easy Jet (EZY)
  6. Finnair (AY)
  7. Flybe (BE)
  8. Air France (AF)
  9. British Airways (BA)
  10. Turkish Airlines (TK)

This measure of rating airlines clearly doesn’t account for passenger comfort or service – it’s all about getting passengers to their destination on time and dealing with compensation claims quickly.  We know that some carriers can offer an outstanding in-flight product but completely fail when it comes to dealing with complaints – these results are proof of that.

Would you choose an airline based on these results rather than the usual award winners?

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