Monday 23 October 2017

The award-winning airline that won't take you for a (free) ride

Tracy Johannson, Laura McCabe and Aer Lingus ceo Stephen Kavanagh with 2016’s Skytrax stars
Tracy Johannson, Laura McCabe and Aer Lingus ceo Stephen Kavanagh with 2016’s Skytrax stars
Mark Evans

Mark Evans

I'm of the view that you should always take public polling with a pinch of salt. Whether it's Ireland getting shafted year after year in the bloated Eurovision, or the consistently angry holidaymaker taking to TripAdvisor to argue about hotel towels, there's a grain of truth in there somewhere, but it's a case of don't take the votes and gripes as Gospel.

But airlines do take the Skytrax awards seriously (well, the ones which do well in them, at least). Each year I'm bombarded with press releases from carriers which have been given the coveted five-star status, or even an honourable mention, by the flying public.

Aer Lingus made a hullabaloo last year about achieving a four-star airline award from a website that the average Joe Soap probably has never heard of. But a win is a win is a win.

This year there's a bit of an edge, with Qatar Airways regaining top spot from Gulf rival Emirates as the planet's best airline, in a region that's had its own nasty diplomatic spats.

Aer Lingus, by the way, kept its four-star rating, and climbed 11 places to be named 38th-best carrier in the world.

Eclipsed in recent years by the Gulf carriers, Singapore Airlines is this year's runner-up, followed by ANA, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, EVA Air, Lufthansa, Etihad, Hainan and Garuda.

Etihad beat Emirates to be awarded best first class; Qatar got the nod for best business class; while Thai has the best economy class, according to Skytrax respondents.

Another Irish-serving carrier, Turkish Airlines, won best business class airline lounge (its lounge in an otherwise cramped Istanbul Airport is exceptional), and with its chefs in the sky, was named best business class onboard catering and best business class lounge dining.

Is your seat more important than your food? Then look to Etihad for best first-class seats, Qatar for its business class seats, and Qantas for its premium economy offering.

While Etihad has done well in the Skytrax ratings, it could be a different story for the Middle Eastern carrier next year.

The airline wrote to me to say it's about "to amend its chauffeur policy". This decision follows "a review of usage by premium guests across all major markets". For "amend", read "scrap" the free chauffeur policy for corporate travellers.

I'm not sure who they polled but it sure wasn't the business market, particularly those who've gotten used to being picked up on time, every time, by trained Irish drivers.

The complimentary chauffeur service will be retained at Etihad Airways' Abu Dhabi hub and replaced with a paid option at specially negotiated rates in all other cities. So that's a boon for economy passengers while the business traveller, or their employer, suffers the hit.

In case you've already booked to travel, the new state of affairs won't affect first class and business class tickets issued prior to July 3.

Local rivals Emirates will continue to offer the free chauffeur service in Dublin, and are also outing the new 520i Touring vehicles for Business Class passengers in Dubai, or onboard wifi for First class passengers in that city too with Mercedes V-class cars.

Etihad's move is most likely a sign of the times as all the Gulf carriers look to cut costs in a tougher environment. Emirates recently opened up its business lounges in Dubai to paying customers (no matter what cabin they flew in).

And Etihad do have the upper hand in one regard - their Dublin Airport lounge is head and shoulders above anything else on offer at the airport. It's now offering economy class guests paid access to that facility, among others around the world, and it's one of those lounges that is worth paying for.

Business travellers will have good access to worldwide connectivity via Schiphol with the news that KLM's Dublin to Amsterdam service will remain five daily for winter and a B737-800 will replace the smaller Embraer on one of the rotations.

KLM's Amsterdam hub won an award for innovation at the recent Future Travel Experience event held in Dublin, and it's currently trialling biometric boarding, whereby passengers don't have to use boarding cards to gain access to planes, instead using specific lanes which will utilise facial-recognition technology to catalogue their journey.

It's the latest bid by the Dutch airport to be the most technologically advanced in Europe.

Sunday Indo Business

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