Airline review site gets spanked by UK advertising industry

Skift Take

Verified reviews are one thing, but when user-review sites make claims about their services, they’d better be sure they can corroborate their boasts.

— Dennis Schaal

Airline review site Skytrax was forced to change its tagline, “Checked and Trusted Airline Reviews,” after running afoul of the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority.

Instead, the Skytrax website at now touts itself as “the world’s largest airline review site.”

Several issues about the site’s advertising practices were brought to the ASA by Kwikchex, the reputation management firm which previously succeeded in getting the ASA to pressure TripAdvisor to delete its references to “trusted traveler reviews.” The ASA doesn’t have any enforcement power, but was established by the UK advertising industry to police non-broadcast media, and can make recommendations to the governmental Office of Fair Trading.

Privacy policy complicates boasts

Skytrax’s claims of “Checked and trusted airlne reviews” and “Real travelers with real opinions” were found to be misleading because although the company outlined a fairly robust verification process for reviews, its privacy policy called for it to delete email addresses 24 hours after each review’s submission.

“Because Skytrax did not have the ability to track a review back to its source after the first 24 hours, and therefore could not demonstrate the verification process to which any one particular review on the site had been subjected, we concluded that they did not hold sufficient evidence to substantiate the claims “Checked and trusted airline review” and “REAL travellers with REAL opinions!,” the ASA found.

The ASA also decided it was “misleading and unsubstantiated” for Skytrax to claim that it featured “more than 5 million independent, traveller reviews and customer trip ratings.”

The site claimed to actually have the 5 million ratings and reviews, but only displays about 400,000, and limits each airline’s reviews to 10 pages because of space and user-experience sensibilities.

Skytrax reaction

Reacting to the ruling, Edward Plaisted, CEO of Skytrax, stated: “We have never been accused of posting false or defamatory reviews, and all user-created content featured on our websites has been checked and authenticated by our in-house, website staff. With over 1400 airlines and airports featured on our website, not one of these companies has ever complained about user reviews being false, defamatory or unfair.”

“That in itself underlines some doubtful, self-serving commercial interests at play when a self-appointed critic of review sites attempts to undermine confidence in a proven and established user forum,” Plaisted said, referring to Kwikchex. “Had we received complaints from our users, an airline or airport, it would of course have been treated with more seriousness.”

Plaisted said he invited the ASA to witness the site’s review verification process in person, but the ASA declined.

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