Skytrax is a British aviation consultancy firm which runs an unofficial but popular Star Rating service for airlines in much the same way that hotels have their own Star Ratings. Up until now, there were just 11 airlines in the world had attained the highest Five Star rating from Skytrax – Etihad Airways joined that list in 2016 but has recently been downgraded to a Four Star rating, joining the likes of Emirates and British Airways.
While Skytrax ratings aren’t official, they are highly sought after and airlines will typically make a big deal of winning a certain Star Rating or award. The annual World Airline Awards, which you most likely have heard of, is also run by Skytrax but unlike those awards, the Star Ratings aren’t based on passenger feedback.
Instead, Skytrax says a Star Rating is an “objective rating based on our unified, global quality standards assessment.” There are many categories that might determine a final Star Rating and although the qualifying criteria aren’t listed, Skytrax does say that both consistency of product and staff service has a “major influence on a final rating”.
According to Etihad, the assessment process includes some of the following criteria:
- Passenger seating,
- Safety procedures,
- In-flight entertainment,
- Cabin cleanliness,
- Comfort amenities,
- Duty Free sales,
- and reading materials.
Etihad didn’t always have a great relationship with Skytrax. In 2014, the Abu Dhabi-based airline abruptly pulled out of the assessment process, explaining in a short statement that the decision “was made after Etihad Airways carried out a review of the criteria and measurement of the Skytrax Airline Rating System.”
Other airlines have also ended their relationship with Skytrax in the past – Turkish Airlines decided it would no longer be participating in the so-called Skytrax World Airline Audit, saying from now on it would only take into account passenger feedback. Turkish Airlines is classed by Skytrax as a Three Star airline.
Yet, in 2016, it appeared Etihad had a major change of heart and airline executives appeared alongside Skytrax reps to announce they had been awarded a Five Star rating. The award came at the height of Etihad’s ‘Flying Reimagined’ campaign.
Edward Plaisted, chief executive of Skytrax, said at the time that the Star Rating demonstrated Etihad’s commitment to “innovation, high-quality service and comfort.”
“Of particular note,” he continued “is Etihad’s attention to detail and a meticulous approach to design, which has brought us – amongst other unique products – the airline’s revolutionary Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 cabins, which are clearly best in class.”
A lot, however, has changed in the last three years – by 2017, Etihad was forced to start making cut back after cut back in a bid to stem heavy losses. It’s not known whether any of these cutbacks could have contributed to the decision to revoke Etihad’s Five Star Rating – which, incidentially, is the first time that it’s happened.
Perhaps it was one particular cost-cutting measure or death by a thousand cuts… we simply don’t know. In the last month, Etihad has announced major changes to its Economy Class product on most short-haul flights.
At least Etihad remains in good company – with the likes of Emirates, Air France and British Airways all being Skytrax Four Star rated airlines. The ten remaining Five Star airlines are as follows:
- ANA All Nippon Airlines
- Asiana Airlines
- Cathay Pacific
- EVA Air
- Garuda Indonesia
- Hainan Airlines
- Japan Airlines
- Qatar Airways
- Singapore Airways
Interestingly, Lufthansa was awarded Five Star status based in part on a new Business Class seat that the airline hasn’t yet launched.