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TRAVEL POLL

Your Favourite Airlines 2005

How SmartTravelAsia.Com readers voted in our broad-based web poll to pick the best — and the worst airlines.

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by Vijay Verghese

SEE ALSO Business Class Seat Survey | Economy Class Seat Survey | Small Airlines Guide | Airbus vs Boeing | Frequent Flier Programs

THE 2005 Smart Travel Asia Favourite Airline Poll closed end July (after a steady three-month online vote) with some predictable results, a few yawns, and some interesting surprises. This year we added two new categories to our 2004 format - Favourite Airline Food, and Favourite Small Airline. Both additions are indicative of travel concerns and trends today. Passengers are no longer content with rubbery beef, the de rigueur "flied lice" and endlessly reheated meals that can provoke a Delhi Belly of Brobdingnagian proportions by the time you tumble into that snaking immigration queue. Unsurprisingly, then, some major airlines took a beating on the food front.

Small airlines, including no-frills, low-cost fly-the-plane-yourself carriers, are a force to be reckoned with. The market is voting with its wallet and national carriers have responded with small cut-price airlines of their own to maintain market share. We included them in a separate class of their own, based not on frills and cost but on network size, as small Asian regional airlines.

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The blue ribbon is a "Favourite Airline Overall" category that reflects total opinion - on cramped or wide seats, leg-room, and flat beds, airline food, in-flight entertainment, inflight Internet and Web access, laptop power, cabin service and hospitality. There are also separate categories by class of travel - first, business class, and economy. A total of 79 airlines were included in the overall airline poll with an additional 26 small airlines in their own separate category.

Polls are often subject to "hijacking" by eager contestants. Block votes, crank entries and fraudulent ballots were removed

The Voter Profile

The voter mix by country of residence was largely representative of our ongoing reader profile - 60 percent from the greater Asian region (with strong participation from Hongkong, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Australia and India), 20 percent from UK (a major Smart Travel Asia market) and Europe (notably Germany, France and Nordic countries), and about 20 percent from USA/North America. With the global reach of an online poll, voters came in from as far afield as Brazil, Denmark, China, India, Ireland, Ukraine, Russia, Qatar, and UAE.

Readers, on average, took a substantial 24.16 air trips on an annual basis, a mix of business travel and leisure. While leisure interest is strong, business travel is a major driver. Matching readers' frequent travel is a high level of disposable income. Reader households on average earned US$173,125 per annum before tax. The top leisure interests among our frequent travellers are shopping, culture, spas, adventure and eco-tours. There is also consistent interest in golf, cruising, and diving.

As many as 80 percent of voters said they take travel decisions online and a similar percentage felt online travel research is "very important". A further 15 percent said they took travel decisions online "sometimes". A small but visible five percent said they never took decisions online while four percent said online research is "not important".

Some naughty business

Polls are often subject to "hijacking" by eager participants keen to ensure a good showing. We have witnessed print polls where magazine newsstand copies were bought up en masse by one hotel, the entry forms duly filled out and posted in. Our web poll has had its share of lively happenings too, in particular, block votes for particular carriers, seemingly to ensure a consistent lead. Several of these, along with duplicates and crank entries were deemed invalid and struck off.

To add some spice to our Smart Travel Asia Favourite Airline Poll proceedings we recklessly added, as before, a "worst airline" category. Often, a best airline will feature in a "worst" category as well through sheer volume of numbers and the laws of probability. The more you fly one airline the more likely you are to encounter one or more less-then-satisfactory event. This accounts for that curious anomaly of a twin ranking at either end of the poll spectrum.

We offered absolutely no rewards - no idyllic Maldivian beach getaways, no Audi car lucky draw and no dinner dates with the editor, who is any case well past it - to voters. We counted entirely on their keen interest in travel and willingness to respond. And so, without further ado, the results.

Favourite Airline Overall

This remained a close tie for most of the three months (May-July 2005) between two impeccable Asian carriers - Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific Airways. In the end, when the poll closed end July, 2005, Cathay Pacific had moved ahead with a sizeable lead to take first spot with 26 percent of the vote. Singapore Airlines came in second with 17 percent.

Asian carriers remained the readers' most popular choices with one Middle Eastern airline weighing in among the top five in the overall favourite category. Smooth-as-silk Thai Airways International ranked a steady fourth (a position it maintained almost right through), behind solid, third-placed Malaysia Airlines (MAS), while Emirates polled 8 percent of the vote to come in fifth. Malaysia Airlines performed consistently well in most categories.

Other Top-Ten Choices

Among the remaining five spots in the worldwide top-ten choices, were two surprises - Bangkok Airways, and SilkAir, both regional leisure carriers with an accent on informality and fun, proving that travellers are not boring cardboard cut-outs, and can dare to be different. The others in the top ten were British Airways, Virgin Atlantic (another freewheeling choice), and Pacific behemoth United Airlines.

1. Cathay Pacific Airways / 26% 1. Cathay Pacific Airways / 36%
2. Singapore Airlines / 17% 2. Singapore Airlines / 34%
3. Malaysia Airlines (MAS) / 13% 3. Thai Airways International / 9%
4. Thai Airways International / 9% 4. Emirates / 6%
5. Emirates / 8% 5. Sri Lankan / 4%

Favourite Economy Class

Cathay Pacific squeezed ahead, just, to bag the overall number one position with 19 percent in the Favourite Economy Class category. This is where the fight was, in cattle-class, the preserve of the downtrodden minions and, lately, executive pin-stripers on an economy drive. Singapore Airlines came in a close second by a sliver with 18 percent of the votes cast (though both airlines were tied for joint first right through July with 18 percent apiece).

The remaining three in the top-five held their ranks through the poll with Malaysia Airlines (MAS) registering as a fast climber with 10 percent to rank fourth. Weighing in as the third most popular airline for economy class travel was Thai Airways international, with Emirates, again a strong performer, coming in fifth with 10 percent (but fewer votes as a whole than MAS and THAI). Do passengers like things in soft focus? Ah well. Do check out our survey of economy class seats to see who's tops on space for the derriere and cramped legs.

Other Top-Ten Choices

Among the remaining top-ten choices, were Bangkok Airways, Virgin Atlantic, United Airlines, and regional HK-China biggie Dragonair. China Airlines made a showing here at the end of the list but reappeared, unfortunately, in the Worst Airline poll as well. More on that later.

1. Cathay Pacific Airways / 19%
1. Singapore Airlines / 33%
2. Singapore Airlines / 18% 2. Cathay Pacific Airways / 33%
3. Thai Airways International / 10% 3. Malaysia Airlines (MAS) / 9%
4. Malaysia Airlines (MAS) / 10% 4. Emirates / 8%
5. Emirates / 10% 5. Virgin Atlantic / 6%

Favourite Business Class

The front end of the aircraft is where the action really hots up. This is the preserve of heavily advertised images of businessmen slumbering in flat, floating sky-beds serenaded by sarong-clad lovelies - while their wailing wives and kids pass out in the kitchen debris at home. Business class has always been a bun-fight over beds, recline, service, personal TV, entertainment, inflight phones, fax, food, wine and general cosseting.

This is the preserve of portly pin-stripers lounging in flat beds while the wife and kids rummage about the kitchen debris

Pulling ahead of the pack here with a comfortable margin was Cathay Pacific with 22 percent of our travellers voting it their favourite. Singapore Airlines, again, a top choice, ranked a close second with 18 percent. Malaysia Airlines nudged up in late stages to a handsome 10 percent of the worldwide vote to rank third while British Airways weighed in fourth with 5 percent to prove that Europeans (okay, the Brits) can indeed run a decent airline. Who came in fifth? That effervescent airline from Dubai - Emirates. Who says the desert is dull? It polled 4 percent of the total votes. See our business class seats survey to check out the flattest "beds".

Other Top-Ten Choices

Completing the top-ten favourites for business class were Thai Airways International with four percent like Emirates but a lower number of votes, Qantas the carrier from Down Under and some genuinely flat beds, Virgin Atlantic, United and, China Airlines.

1. Cathay Pacific Airways / 22%
1. Singapore Airlines / 34%
2. Singapore Airlines / 18% 2. Cathay Pacific Airways / 33%
3. Malaysia Airlines (MAS) / 10% 3. Malaysia Airlines (MAS) / 10%
4. British Airways / 5% 4. Virgin Atlantic / 8%
5. Emirates / 4% 5. Emirates / 7%

Favourite First Class

Now we're right up there with the Warren Buffets of the world. Your penthouse in the sky is certainly worth fussing over. Be it in the nose of a B-747 or an upper deck in a Megatop, the undisputed winner in this category is Singapore Airlines. SIA secured a consistent 16 percent of the vote and stayed ahead of closest rival Cathay Pacific, who came in a shade under with 15 percent.

Emirates made an appearance in third position with 10 percent of the votes followed by the "World's favourite airline", British Airways. BA won kudos again with 9 percent of the vote in this Favourite First Class category. Were the flat beds a factor?

Ranked a proud fifth with 6 percent of the vote is another major Asian airline - Malaysia Airlines (MAS). A combination of "truly Asian" goodies, service, smiles and, doubtless, its domestic free ticket giveaways helped maintain a steady popularity right through the three months of our poll.

Other Top-Ten Choices

Rounding up the top-ten in this premium category were Thai Airways International, Virgin Atlantic, United, Lufthansa and Air France. Finally some Euro carriers peeking through the Asian-jet exhaust clouds.

1. Singapore Airlines / 16%
1. Singapore Airlines / 33%
2. Cathay Pacific Airways / 15% 2. Cathay Pacific Airways / 28%
3. Emirates / 10% 3. Emirates / 11%
4. British Airways / 9% 4. British Airways / 9%
5. Malaysia Airlines (MAS) / 6% 5. Thai Airways International / 8%

Favourite Airline Food

Armies, said Napoleon, march on their bellies, and frequent travellers are no different. Not that nosh will affect choice of carrier but it certainly enhances the travel experience. Indifferent food leads to indifferent opinions.

Heading the pack 30,000ft aloft was curry-king Malaysia Airlines just ahead of close rivals SIA and THAI Airways

Airlines serving up decent meals 30,000 feet aloft came in for rich kudos. Heading the pack was curry-king Malaysia Airlines (MAS) with a very decent 15 percent of the vote, just ahead of close rival Singapore Airlines which garnered 14 percent. Thai Airways International produced some solid votes here to secure 12 percent and third place on the food front. Cathay Pacific slipped steadily to eventually bag fourth spot with just 8 percent of the vote and Air France, that delightfully socialist if stylish, Euro airline, jetted in fifth with 8 percent as well.

Other Top-Ten Choices

The remaining top-ten choices for airborne foodies included Bangkok Airways, Emirates, sister-airline and steady favourite Sri Lankan, Japan Air Lines, and SilkAir.

1. Malaysia Airlines (MAS) / 15%
N/A
2. Singapore Airlines / 14% N/A
3. Thai Airways International / 12% N/A
4. Cathay Pacific Airways / 8% N/A
5. Air France / 8% N/A

Favourite Cabin Service

Alright, you've voted for economy, business and first class but let's face it, one of the truest tests of an airline's character is the quality and consistency of its cabin service. We're not talking doe-eyed stewardesses and sun-burnished stewards who make hearts race and coffee spill. We're talking about genuine smiles, quality service, and efficiency 30,000ft aloft where the only thing between you and a forcibly opened exit door when your baby needs nappy changing for the umpteenth time, is the steady hand and quick response of a flight attendant.

Travellers are a picky bunch. Serve them well and they'll be spoiled, asking for more. Serve them too well and the neighbours will get restive, wondering why it's always "other" passengers that get all the service aloft. Serve them too quick and they'll wail about not having finished their first whisky. Serve them too slow and they'll fidget and glare. All airlines know cabin service is a delicate balancing act. The airlines that do it best, offer genuine service, not an act.

The votes on best cabin service were a bit more spread out. Again topping voters' lists was Cathay Pacific with 20 percent of all votes cast in this category. Dropping behind a few percentage points but ranking a firm second with its undeniable efficiency and quality service all around, was Singapore Airlines with 15 percent. SIA was followed by another strong contender, Thai Airways International, with 10 percent. Ranked fourth best on cabin service is Malaysia Airlines (MAS)with 10 per cent followed closely by Sri Lankan which secured 6 percent.

Other Top-Ten Choices

Bringing up the rest of the top-ten were Emirates, Bangkok Airways (it appears the Thai touch works), Dragonair, United and SilkAir.

1. Cathay Pacific Airways / 20%
1. Singapore Airlines / 29%
2. Singapore Airlines / 15% 2. Cathay Pacific Airways / 21%
3. Thai Airways International / 10% 3. Thai Airways International / 14%
4. Malaysia Airlines (MAS) / 10% 4. Emirates / 9%
5. Sri Lankan / 6% 5. Sri Lankan / 8%

Favourite Small Airline

Not everyone has a wallet directly connected to Fort Knox. Let's face it: travellers everywhere are forsaking frills for deep fare cuts. Need a sandwich? Buy one. Need karaoke? It's free - at least on Valuair with its singing airhostesses. The growth of small, low-cost, no-frills airlines in Asia has been spectacular and major airlines have chipped in with versions of their own.

So who were the best among the small, regionals? Heading the list was Bangkok Airways with 19 percent of the vote, closely followed by top-rate Indian contender Jet Airways with a sizeable 17 percent. These two carriers are neither low cost nor no-frills. They are smaller, but with crisp service. Jet Airways has acquired an enviable reputation and market share in India. Perhaps travellers do need a bit of coddling after all. SilkAir came in third with 11 percent of the vote and Virgin Blue from Australia produced a 10 percent haul to bag forth place. Air Asia, the region's fastest-growing "small" airline with its catchy slogan - Now everyone can fly - bagged fifth place with a creditable 8 percent. Read more in our small airlines survey.

Other Top-Ten Choices

Rounding up the remaining top-ten slots from a field of 26 candidates, were Druk Air from Bhutan, Tiger Airways, Cebu Pacific, Lion Air and CR Airways.

1. Bangkok Airways / 19%
N/A
2. Jet Airways (India) / 17% N/A
3. SilkAir / 11% N/A
4. Virgin Blue (Australia) / 10% N/A
5. Air Asia / 8% N/A

Worst Airline Overall

There just remains the thankless task of shining the spotlight on readers' "worst airline" choices. Interestingly, not all voters indicated a worst airline. Rather generous we thought considering some of the gripes that land daily in our letters tray. Votes here were spread out considerably as well, with high performers coming in for irksome kicks in the shins.

Topping readers' votes in the worst airline category was the unfortunate Aeroflot, the Russian carrier that has done a fair bit to overhaul its image and service in recent years. Aeroflot garnered 9 percent of the vote.

Following Aeroflot in second place was Pakistan International Airlines with 8 percent of the votes. PIA was followed in third place by Biman Bangladesh Airlines (with 7 percent), China Airlines (from Taiwan, with 6 percent), and United Airlines with 5 percent. Well, no pain, no gain. Better luck next year.

1. Aeroflot / 9%
1. Aeroflot / 10%
2. Pakistan International Airlines / 8% 2. China Airlines / 9%
3. Biman Bangladesh Airlines / 7% 3. American Airlines / 9%
4. China Airlines (Taiwan) / 6% 4. Air-India / 9%
5. United Airlines / 5% 5. Malaysia Airlines (MAS) / 9%

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