The ultimate reward of awards is good press for the winners. But aiming for the prize--any prize--helps spur on airlines and airports to make air travel better. That has to be a good thing.
As the aviation awards season gets under way we thought we’d take a moment to review some of the more popular recognitions in the industry, and the decision-making process behind them.
Airlines covet them, the press covers them and they get the attention of industry-watchers. Whether awards drive the choices passengers make when booking an airline ticket is debatable, but awards encourage airlines and airports to improve the passenger experience as well as deepen relationships with loyal customers.
The Freddie Awards
The Freddie Awards have been awarded by InsideFlyer magazine’s Randy Petersen since 1988. The Freddies are named after Sir Freddie Laker, who dedicated his life to the aviation industry and, through his many contributions, helped lay the foundations for a better flying experience. They are highly prestigious awards that recognize the best of the travel loyalty industry and reflect the preferences of the frequent flyer.
Results are calculated based on nearly 3 million ballots cast each year by travelers from around the world. Peterson’s history as founder of FlyerTalk and the brains behind BoardingArea and Milepoint help the voting process reach one of the wider audiences of any of the awards. This year’s ballots are available in English, German, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic. They’re backed by sponsors including USA Today and American Express. This year’s awards will be given out on April 30 at the Delta Flight Museum in Atlanta, GA.
APEX Passenger Choice Awards
The Passenger Choice Awards were introduced by the Airline Passenger Experience (APEX) Association in 2010 as a way to help gather useful passenger satisfaction data for airlines and recognize the airlines which are most successful in pleasing their customers. While APEX is a long-established industry organization, with a combined membership of airlines and industry suppliers, the Passenger Choice Awards are given out based on data gathered directly from passengers who complete a comprehensive online survey. Travelers are encouraged to rate an airline each time they fly during the data-gathering process, with each survey completed corresponding to a recent flight.
The entire passenger experience is evaluated, from ticket booking through to baggage claim. Survey results are calculated in conjunction with the Nielsen company and all anonymous data gathered is shared with the airlines rated to help them pinpoint specific areas of improvement and identify which products and services have been most directly responsible for passenger satisfaction. The survey will be open this year from May 1-June 30 for passengers to cast their votes and the awards are given out at the APEX EXPO in the fall.
World Travel Awards
The World Travel Awards organization competes directly with Skytrax (see below) in the area of awards, each comparing themselves to the Oscars in some manner. World Travel Awards (WTA) is not sponsored by the industry. The awards are based on a two-fold nomination process, allowing travel organizations to nominate themselves, with some selected directly by WTA for inclusion. Nominees are vetted by WTA to ensure strict criteria are met.
The organization tallies the popular vote from the general public and members of the travel community to find the most respected brands by gathering votes from executives in the travel and tourism industry, and from travelers through an on-line voting process. The votes of travelers count as one vote and those of travel professionals count as two. The organization says that it performs internal audits to ensure the validity of votes cast.
Crystal Cabin Awards
The Crystal Cabin Awards are perhaps the most esoteric of airline industry awards, and contribute significantly to improvements in the design of technology, materials and structures which improve the passenger experience in the cabin. Established manufacturers as well as independent innovators and inventors submit detailed proposals of specific products they have developed or design concepts.
All submissions are closely evaluated by a panel of highly regarded industry experts and winners are chosen based on a comprehensive set of technical and aesthetic criteria. This year, 68 applications from 18 countries made it to the short list. The awards will be given out during Aircraft Interiors EXPO in Hamburg.
IATA Passenger Innovation Awards
More recently, the International Airline Association (IATA) has established its Passenger Innovation Awards, intended to encourage the airline industry to innovate and improve the air travel experience while making operations more efficient. Submissions must fall within the scope of IATA’s Simplifying the Business (StB) aims and at meet at least one of the five StB goals.
Like the Crystal Cabin Awards, the Passenger Innovation Awards are based on submitted proposals which are evaluated by a panel of industry judges to develop a short list. The short list is then voted on by members to select the winners. The awards were introduced only last year, and given out at the organization’s World Passenger Symposium in 2014.
And Then There’s Skytrax’s Awards
The withdrawal of Etihad last year from the Skytrax quality certification system got attention from the industry, and was the first time an airline demonstrated outright dissatisfaction with the Skytrax’s World Airport and World Airline awards and the process behind them.
Skytrax’s World Airports Awards website claims that 13.02 million people submitted surveys in a seven month period for its latest airport awards, which were announced on Wednesday. That number represents more people than visited its multiple websites during that same period, according to the most generous reading of numbers on Alexa, Compete, or SimilarWeb. The metrics Skytrax uses to calculate its awards are a closely guarded secret which the organization would not explain to Skift when asked.
Skytrax itself consists of two businesses: a paid advisory service that provides airport and airline quality certifications through star ratings, and the non-profit World Airport and World Airline Awards, which are based on passenger satisfaction surveys. As Skift learned when researching the organization, Skytrax, which states that it is based in London, is not a registered corporation with Companies House in the UK and instead operates as what Skytrax’s official spokesperson, Peter Miller, calls “a professional partnership status.”
The principal partner appears to be Skytrax’s founder Edward Plaisted, whose background in aviation, or outside of aviation, is unknown. Skift has tried on more than one occasion to get insights from the Skytrax on its methodology, metrics, and business organization with no success. Questions answered by its press representative were later claimed to be off the record, and statements given for previous stories were asked to be retracted.
In 2012, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority, the country’s independent regulator for advertising across all media, found in favor of KwikChex, Ltd when it challenged the authenticity of Skytrax’s customer reviews, which appear on its Airline Quality website. From the record of the finding: “The ASA considered that, in order to justify the claims of authenticity made in the ad, Skytrax needed to demonstrate that they took all reasonable steps to ensure that reviews were checked, trusted and made by ‘real’ people with ‘real’ opinions.”
Even so, Skytrax awards receive a great deal of press and, regardless of their methods, have succeeded in bringing positive recognition to many airlines and airports which rightfully deserve accolades. Few would argue that Singapore’s Changi Airport deserves to win the organization’s highest honor again this year.
Changi, though, would not speak on the record about its relationship with Skytrax, even though it regularly speaks about other initiatives at the airport. As part of Skytrax’s paid consultancy with airlines and airports, it enters into confidentiality agreements that limit what either party can say, according to Plaisted.
Changi’s reluctance is consistent with that of other airlines and airports Skift spoke with: None would speak about the company on the record, either to praise it or to criticize it.
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Photo credit: Singapore's Changi Airport tops almost everyone's list of top airports in the world. Changi Airport