In a world where everyone can now easily become a critic, navigating our way through the vast swathes of reviews can be daunting. After all, human nature dictates we will only ever comment on something exceptional. This is why ‘average’ reviews are rarely seen, with either excellent or scathing comments usually posted. Airlines are subject to a variety of customer service issues, sometimes out of their control, such as diversions, medical emergencies or air traffic control strikes that will lead to disgruntled passengers commenting on a lost bag or a missed connection.
Some sites, ourselves included, rank airlines based on our professional experiences and opinions on the industry as a whole with a structured approach. While more often, these can be seen as better litmus papers, they too, can be put under scrutiny. However, more often than not, these awards reflect the generalised passenger perception of carriers.
But recently, the airlines’ official ‘star-rating’ system has become more and more disparate from the general public’s view of the carriers. The latest ratings were released recently, but we were somewhat surprised to see some of the ratings go both up and down when fundamentally there might have been little difference in the carrier’s operation or passenger experience.
Let us use one obvious example, Turkish Airlines, who we have always been impressed with. For us, it epitomises what a 5-star carrier should look like within Europe. When it was downgraded from a 4-star however to a 3-star carrier, we couldn’t help but believe these rankings just couldn’t be trusted.
After all, with our several trips with the carrier, we’d have expected the swing to go the other way, with the carrier adopting a 5-star ranking. Maybe it has something to do with the airline pulling out of Skytrax, the company that issues the ratings. Etihad did a similar thing, opting to pull out of the Skytrax rating a few years ago, only having a change of heart and being awarded a 5-star rating (which has now dropped to 4-stars)
Just as a way of explaining our logic, here are just some (of many) reasons why the airline should be a 5-star carrier.
While only available in Business Class, the carrier has chefs onboard. These aren’t just cabin crew wearing a chef’s hat, they are fully-trained chefs from luxury restaurants and hotels around the world. Across the fleet and on the ground, Turkish has adopted some of the best inflight catering globally to provide the food and drink offering in each cabin and in its lounges.
There are very few airlines that offer a chef service, and even less that have chefs of such a high pedigree. What’s more, recently the airline has also adopted two new enhancements, including dine on demand, where you can set your own dining times, and a ‘As you wish’ service, which allows you to pre-order from an expanded menu weeks before flying on intercontinental flights from Istanbul.
The new airport is still only a few months old and now 100% operational, it’s a huge step forward for the carrier in comparison to Ataturk. The airport, while monumental in size, will eventually become a true global hub, allowing for up to 200million passengers per annum.
The terminal also plays home to four new Turkish Airlines lounges, with the two main lounges situated conveniently at either side of the terminal with a wide range of amenities similar to its award-winning predecessor. These lounges are not only vast, but have personality and a zonal concept that makes for an enjoyable layover.
Kids (no matter their age) are treated like royalty
Not only do the littlest of passengers receive complimentary toys, which are natural and organic, but they are entertained with their own version of the entertainment system which features a special GUI designed to be fun and engaging for younger viewers. For everyone else, the IFE system features over 350 movies, countless TV shows and more music than you could ever listen too, even as a frequent flyer.
Turkish, on most of its fleet offers a truly competitive business class product, with large deep recliner seats, which are somewhat better than their North American rivals. They are one of the only carriers in the region that offer such seats on their narrow-bodies, and a huge advancement on the Lufthansa ‘5-star’ rated product.
Flying from London to Istanbul last year, we were even treated to an onboard chef, on an A321 flight. It’s highly impressive, and with inflight entertainment, again, a huge improvement on the rest of the European carriers that are lagging behind in this respect
Whether in economy or business class, long haul passengers are treated to decent amenities. Every cabin class receives slippers, blankets, amenity kits and in Business class excellent Turkish coffee on demand. The business class cabin is a quantum leap ahead of some of its competitors, with fresh plants in the toilets, Molton Brown toiletries, Denon headsets on long haul flights, and even flickering candles to dine by, something the likes of Qatar have also recently followed suit with.
The airline is one of a few that offer free WiFi for all passengers. In economy, passenegers can enjoy 10 MB for free, which is just about enough to check your emails or send a handful of messages to your loved ones. For those in Business Class or Miles & Smiles Elite and Elite Plus members, access is free the whole time. Passengers in Economy Class can also make use of the Wi-Fi internet service, at a cost of $9.99 for one hour, or $14.99 for a 24-hour package, which is a fairly affordable rate in comparison to the rest of the industry.
As well as offering complimentary hotels for passengers with connections longer than 8 hours in business or 10 hours in economy (based on the next available flight) which includes a shuttle bus to take you there, the airline also offers an impressive bosphorus tour for business class passengers, or 3 other traditional tours through Istanbul to entertain guests and give a little bit of culture during their wait in the airport. While other airlines are now following suit, Turkish Airlines started this offering years ago.
While Turkish Airlines itself isn’t the only carrier that we feel has a scoring that is way off the mark, it goes to show that sometimes, while user-generated review sites will generally show two extremes of an airline experience, these ratings of carriers also need to be justified. After all, Lufthansa, while a decent carrier, hasn’t impressed us to the levels that Turkish has, time after time.
Perhaps it is time for another independent airline rating system, to challenge the monopoly that the star-ratings have had for many years, and it seems that Apex is already starting to challenge these ratings with their own ‘Official Airline Ratings’ which classes Turkish, and many other carriers with the much lauded 5-star ranking. However, also classing Aerolíneas Argentinas as a 5-star carrier means that no system is totally error-free.