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How the World’s 30 Best Airline Brands Ranked With Consumers This Year

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Skift Take

Where is airline brand fancy bred? In the heart and in the head.

— Marisa Garcia

How well did the top airline brands build relationships with consumers and awareness of their message?

Did these icons support their iconography? Or were logos, liveries, cabins, and services, no more than fly-by costume changes?

Brand Finance released its report of the Top 30 airline brands for 2015 in February of this year, as a sub-set of its report on the most powerful brands in the world. While the market numbers behind these rankings are sound, we wanted to see how well these elite airlines improved their connections with consumers over the year.

Valuations vs. Values

Brand value can be measured in corporate assets and market share, as Brand Finance has done. Image can be moulded and improved through product upgrades and ad campaigns. But the brand’s promise–its ethos–is better measured by its positive relationships with consumers.

Some of the most cherished airline brands in history ultimately lost their battles against negative market pressures. But their legacies endure. They built strong positive associations in the minds of consumers which, if anything, have intensified over the years and become icons of the legend that is the Golden Age of aviation.

There is currency in brand that does not find its way neatly into the balance sheets. We wanted to pin it down.

The Airline Brand Skift Rating 

We reviewed Brand Finance’s 2015 Top 30 airline brands, and measured these airlines’ performance on social and traditional media, to gauge their relationship building and the resonance of their message.

By combining Brand Finance’s own rankings with each airline’s rank based on followers on Twitter, likes on Facebook, followers on Instagram, subscribers YouTube, and Klout score, we came up with a net Skift rating.

The Skift rating reveals which airline ranked higher than another, and by how much. This  reveals the close competition for brand fans in the sector.

How they Fared

In our results, we included details from Brand Finances’ valuation (including the percentage of improvement or devaluation from 2014) and their Brand Rating.

By comparing these figures to the airline’s performance Tier and Skift rating (embedded below), it’s clear that some airlines are punching well above their market weight, using the power of digital campaigns and their social channels to raise global brand awareness.

We found that, by Skift rating, a number of airlines changed positions, when compared to Brand Finance’s rankings.

Many airlines were tied, reducing Brand Finance’s list of 30 to 17 Skift performance Tiers, grouped by Skift rating.

Top-Tier Airlines

Two airline brands stood out among their peers for 2015, both making it to Tier 1 rankings: Emirates and Turkish Airlines.

Emirates was first place in Brand Finance’s rankings in 2014 and 2015. However, Turkish Airlines, by Brand Finance’s rankings, was in the 14th spot. Its shift up demonstrates how dramatically creative social campaigns can grow an airline’s brand fan base.

EMIRATES

Brand Finance reports that Emirates improved its 2014 brand value by 21% to US$6.6 billion in 2015.

The airline has had plenty of press coverage this year, not all of it good. Bad press is predominately related to the ongoing Open Skies battle between the Big 3 Gulf and Big 3 U.S airlines.

But Emirates has managed to stay one step ahead of the politics, fought back on questions raised about its finances and competitor’s accusations of unfair subsidies, and has risen above the more scatological and incendiary rhetoric employed in the dispute.

The airline’s CEO, Sir Tim Clark, has come across as a strong leader.

On the campaign side, Emirates continued its strong sports franchise support, and supported the decision of Paris Saint Germain to replace the Emirates logo team jerseys with the message ‘Je Suis Paris’ following the Paris attacks.

Emirates also launched a travel lifestyle campaign through its #BeThere campaign. Its ‘Globalista’ ambassadors each represent a particular travel interest: sports, adventure, food, culture, music, and fashion.

The airline also booked Jennifer Aniston as its new celebrity brand ambassador this year, but the ‘onboard nightmare’ (No shower!) debut video, earned some backlash in the U.S. where the ad (and Aniston) came across as elitist.

Emirates rocketed the internet to a frenzy with its #HelloJetman stunt during the Dubai Airshow this year. Since November, this video has already had over 18 million views.

There have been rumors that Emirates would debut a new cabin image for a while now, but nothing has materialized. While Emirates’ onboard product is very good, it is getting a bit dated. However, the airline upgraded its in-flight entertainment (IFE) late this year. Emirates expanded the content offered on its ICE entertainment platform, and introduced the largest screens in class to its Economy cabin and First Class cabins. (Screens in Business Class, the airline said, are already among the largest in the market.)

On Social Media, Emirates has performed well. The airline has 608,000 followers on Twitter; 5,232,700 Facebook Likes; 903,000 Followers on Instagram; and over 79,200 Subscribers on YouTube.

TURKISH AIRLINES

Brand Finance valued Turkish Airlines’ at USD$M 1,922 for 2015, which was a 15% improvement over 2014. Despite being about one-third the size of Emirates, the airline has excelled at alternative campaigns and made the most of its strengths which earned it a place in the top Tier.

In a one-on-one interview with our Dan Peltier this year, Turkish Airlines’ CEO, Temel Kotil, described competition with Gulf carriers as a close race, despite its relative size.

“We are growing 17% a year for the last 10 years and this is much more than the Gulf carriers. They may be bigger than us today, but tomorrow, who knows. We’re growing much faster than them,” he said.

The airline has had a number of YouTube ads go viral over the past three years. With over 8.9 million views, at the time of this report, Turkish Airlines’ most popular video of 2015, ‘Turkish Airlines Fly Africa!’, lags behind its ‘Kobe vs. Messi: The Selfie Shootout’ viral hit of 2013 (143 million views).

But it was still popular enough to earn the Turkish Airlines the 5th spot on YouTube’s Most Viewed Travel Videos of 2015. Its ‘How Do You Make a Didier?’ video had over 6.2 Million views. A destination-marketing video: ‘Istanbul: Flow Through the City of Tales’ has already earned over 5.5 Million views since its premiere in November.

Turkish Airlines also proved it is willing to experiment with new platforms. This year, it became the first airline ever to live-broadcast a flight.

The airline has also launched an aspirational lifestyle campaign, #DelightfulStories, which aims to inspire people to travel and expand their horizons with stories of the journeys which some ordinary people have taken to fulfill their dreams.

On Social Media, Turkish Airlines has 1,099,000 followers on Twitter; over 7,483,770 Facebook Likes; 463,000 Followers on Instagram; and 105,690 Subscribers on YouTube—the most YouTube subscribers of any airline on our list by a wide margin.

Runner-Up

AMERICAN AIRLINES

As the world’s largest carrier, and having completed a relatively smooth merger transition with U.S. Airways, American Airlines, has earned its Tier 2 spot (missing our Tier 1 by only one Skift rating point).

Sound leadership from Doug Parker has made the most of the cost-benefits of low fuel and merger synergies. The airline has managed brand transition at a pace which allowed consumers to adjust and has kept customers informed of changes.

To help customers understand its new frequent flyer account features, for example, American posted an illustrated video guide on YouTube.

The airline could be performing better on digital media campaigns, when compared to our two leaders and even some airlines just below in the rankings.

But American has exceptional customer social media customer support on Twitter, and is highly engaged with followers on the platform. This responsiveness pays off. American has the highest airline Klout score (93).

Among the U.S. Big Three, American has defended its market, without descending to the lowest of Open Skies arguments.

The airline has also announced that it will be the first U.S. carrier to introduce a Premium Economy cabin. American created an on-line virtual tour of the new cabin class.

American Airlines has over 1,228,000 Twitter Follows, over 1,959,000 Facebook Fans, over 250,000 followers on Instagram, and over 35,000 subscribers on YouTube.

Honorable Mentions

AIR FRANCE/KLM

These two partners, independently and together, continue to perform well on social channels and have brought some novel campaigns to market this year.

KLM leads the pack on Twitter follows, at nearly 2 million, and comes in second only to the #1 airline, Qatar Airways, on Facebook (9.8 million vs 10.3 million).

KLM had a number of campaigns and improvements this year, including the launch of its new Dreamliner aircraft.

While the safety video genre continues to tip from the sublime to the ridiculous, KLM took a more subtle approach with a traditional safety video illustrated by more than one thousand hand-painted Delft blue tiles, focusing on the core safety message, while embellishing with a destination and national brand theme.

With just over 450,000 views of the short version ‘making-of’, this video is no where close to Delta’s top-spot grabbing MEME-a-palooza: ’The Internetest Safety Video on the Internet’; which had 9.3 million views.

But we suspect that very soon, if not already, the shark will have been jumped. Perhaps safety basics with a tasteful twist is the way forward for 2016.

By far one of the most elegant destination marketing and rebranding campaigns of this year (and many years prior) has been Air France’s ‘France is in the Air’ campaign.

As campaigns go, Air France is at the vanguard. ‘France is in the Air’ is the airline’s artistic representation of France’s culture, joie de vivre, and élan, which is consistently presented on both digital and traditional media.

Its surreal dreamscape video, with the much-too-catchy tune, earned Air France a staggering 87.9 million views. This put the airline at the #1 spot in travel on YouTube; far more views than the respectable 16.7 million views that the most powerful brand in the world, LEGO, received for its FUNel Vision ‘Legoland Hotel Grand Opening in Florida + Dragon Scare Cam!’

Air France also debuted a safety-focused safety video, which complemented the stylish aesthetic of ‘France is in the Air.’

Air France also launched its new cabin interiors, revealed in 2014, which reflect the timeless elegance of French couture.

The airline has suffered embarrassing labor issues and national tragedy, but it is powering through turbulence and dark clouds. We hope it finds clearer skies ahead.

SOUTHWEST

Tied with Air France/KLM in our third Tier is Southwest Airlines.

The once little-airline-that-could has matured to a powerful iconic brand. It continues to please both budget-savvy passengers and investors. The airline has established a solid brand ethos around its ‘LUV’ hub, and has stayed true to its beloved corporate values, even as it evolves with the times.

From the beginning, strong leadership has been Southwest’s secret of success. Its iconoclast charismatic leader Herb Kelleher created a nurturing team environment where every employee is empowered to drive change.

Gary Kelly has stayed true to Herb Kelleher’s original playbook. He has a clear vision of how Southwest should keep its customers happy, and ward-off competition.

But Southwest can always do better. It has recently settled with the FAA to pay $2.8 million in fines over work performed by contractors. The airline has maintained an excellent safety record, but marks against it by regulators can be damaging to an otherwise sparkling image.

Speaking of sparkling, Southwest’s clever, clear-as-crystal, Transfarency campaign connects with U.S. air travellers by acknowledging common complaints and calling-out competitors for their hate-selling (upselling) strategies.

The associated #FeesDontFly hashtag is getting good traction on Twitter. The airline also engages its audience well and holds a Klout score of 89.3, second only to American Airlines.

QATAR AND DELTA

With a Skift ranking of 92, Qatar Airways is soaring above its size, engaging consumers well enough to match the overall brand performance of its much larger U.S. Big 3 rival Delta Airlines.

EVERYBODY ELSE

The following chart shows the performance of all 30 airlines reviewed, revealing some surprises on airlines which on a rapid ascent and others which might want to adjust for headwinds.

Top Brands Airline Rank
Tier 1 Emirates
Brand Valuation USD$M 6,640 1
Change from 2014 21%
Brand Rating AAA 1
Klout 79 15
Twitter Follows 608 10
Facebook Fans 5,232,701 3
Instagram 903 1
YouTube 79.227 2
Skift Rating 95
Tier 1 Turkish Airlines
Brand Valuation USD$M 2,219 14
Change from 2014 15%
Brand Rating AA 14
Klout 86 6
Twitter Follows 1,099,000 5
Facebook Fans 7,483,773 2
Instagram 463 3
YouTube 105.69 1
Skift Rating 95
Tier 2 American Airlines
Brand Valuation USD$M 3,649 5
Change from 2014 39%
Brand Rating AA 5
Klout 93 1
Twitter Follows 1,228,165 5
Facebook Fans 1,959,339 9
Instagram 251 7
YouTube 35.03 8
Skift Rating 94
Tier 3 Air France
Brand Valuation USD$M 2,597 12
Change from 2014 2%
Brand Rating AA 12
Klout 87 4
Twitter Follows 745 8
Facebook Fans 5,404,131 2
Instagram 221 9
YouTube 38.361 7
Skift Rating 93
Tier 3 KLM
Brand Valuation USD$M 1,394 20
Change from 2014 3%
Brand Rating AA 20
Klout 84.6 9
Twitter Follows 1,994,751 1
Facebook Fans 9,881,414 2
Instagram 257 6
YouTube 64.961 3
Skift Rating 93
Tier 3 Southwest Airlines
Brand Valuation USD$M 3,466 6
Change from 2014 52%
Brand Rating AAA- 7
Klout 89.3 2
Twitter Follows 1,931,196 3
Facebook Fans 4,480,030 3
Instagram 169 13
YouTube 16.886 16
Skift Rating 93
Tier 4 Delta
Brand Valuation USD$M 6,336 2
Change from 2014 34%
Brand Rating AAA- 2
Klout 82.1 13
Twitter Follows 1,074,572 6
Facebook Fans 1,507,606 12
Instagram 205 10
YouTube 46.447 5
Skift Rating 92
Tier 4 Qatar Airways
Brand Valuation USD$M 2,774 11
Change from 2014 54%
Brand Rating AA+ 11
Klout 82 13
Twitter Follows 676 10
Facebook Fans 10,382,114 1
Instagram 634 2
YouTube 24.54 12
Skift Rating 92
Tier 5 British Airways
Brand Valuation USD$M 3,645 7
Change from 2014 41%
Brand Rating AA+ 6
Klout 48.6 31
Twitter Follows 792,000 12
Facebook Fans 2,137,776 7
Instagram 262 4
YouTube 55.104 4
Skift Rating 89
Tier 5 Lufthansa
Brand Valuation USD$M 4,099 4
Change from 2014 -2%
Brand Rating AA+ 4
Klout 78.5 16
Twitter Follows 388 17
Facebook Fans 1,914,561 11
Instagram 247 8
YouTube 24.235 13
Skift Rating 89
Tier 6 Etihad Airways
Brand Valuation USD$M 1,439 19
Change from 2014 41%
Brand Rating AA 19
Klout 72 22
Twitter Follows 378 13
Facebook Fans 1,747,251 11
Instagram 309 4
YouTube 27.587 9
Skift Rating 87
Tier 6 Cathay Pacific
Brand Valuation USD$M 2,358 13
Change from 2014 12%
Brand Rating AA+ 13
Klout 85.5 7
Twitter Follows 274.824 16
Facebook Fans 1,188,362 14
Instagram 135 17
YouTube 27.573 10
Skift Rating 87
Tier 6 Singapore Airlines
Brand Valuation USD$M 2,936 9
Change from 2014 -10%
Brand Rating AAA 9
Klout 71 23
Twitter Follows 349.334 14
Facebook Fans 2,126,776 7
Instagram 181 11
YouTube 17.454 15
Skift Rating 87
Tier 7 TAM
Brand Valuation USD$M 814 30
Change from 2014 -36%
Brand Rating AA+ 30
Klout 75.7 21
Twitter Follows 956,814 7
Facebook Fans 3,151,500 5
Instagram 142 16
YouTube 41.503 6
Skift Rating 86
Tier 8 JetBlue
Brand Valuation USD$M 886 29
Change from 2014 0
Brand Rating AAA- 29
Klout 81.9 14
Twitter Follows 1,976,262 2
Facebook Fans 1,085,634 16
Instagram 109 18
YouTube 11.345 19
Skift Rating 84
Tier 8 United Airlines
Brand Valuation USD$M 4,861 3
Change from 2014 27%
Brand Rating AA+ 3
Klout 58.2 29
Twitter Follows 150.63 19
Facebook Fans 846.307 18
Instagram 170 13
YouTube 13.528 17
Skift Rating 84
Tier 9 Qantas
Brand Valuation USD$M 1,331 21
Change from 2014 2%
Brand Rating AA+ 21
Klout 81 15
Twitter Follows 64.37 27
Facebook Fans 769.715 20
Instagram 176 12
YouTube 26.232 11
Skift Rating 82
Tier 10 EasyJet
Brand Valuation USD$M 1,281 22
Change from 2014 8%
Brand Rating AA+ 22
Klout 86.4 4
Twitter Follows 340.626 15
Facebook Fans 409.703 28
Instagram 37.9 21
YouTube 3.636 26
Skift Rating 81
Tier 10 Alaska Airlines
Brand Valuation USD$M 1,119 23
Change from 2014 0
Brand Rating AA 23
Klout 86.2 5
Twitter Follows 166.375 18
Facebook Fans 625.668 24
Instagram 49.8 20
YouTube 3.354 27
Skift Rating 81
Tier 11 Virgin Atlantic
Brand Valuation USD$M 951 27
Change from 2014 0
Brand Rating AA+ 28
Klout 86.0 6
Twitter Follows 448.115 11
Facebook Fans 449.437 26
Instagram 1.324 30
YouTube 10.979 20
Skift Rating 80
Tier 11 Iberia
Brand Valuation USD$M 951 27
Change from 2014 -23%
Brand Rating AA 27
Klout 75 21
Twitter Follows 449.4 11
Facebook Fans 1,406,080 12
Instagram 29.6 25
YouTube 9.161 24
Skift Rating 80
Tier 12 Japan Airlines
Brand Valuation USD$M 1,718 17
Change from 2014 -29%
Brand Rating AA+ 17
Klout n/a 31
Twitter Follows 240 25
Facebook Fans 1,271,793 13
Instagram 34.7 22
YouTube 12.566 18
Skift Rating 79
Tier 13 Thai Airways
Brand Valuation USD$M 993 26
Change from 2014 -19%
Brand Rating AA- 26
Klout 57 30
Twitter Follows 62.8 28
Facebook Fans 1,220,346 13
Instagram 151 15
YouTube 10.961 22
Skift Rating 78
Tier 13 ANA All Nippon Airways
Brand Valuation USD$M 2,203 15
Change from 2014 -3%
Brand Rating AA 15
Klout n/a 31
Twitter Follows 25.2 29
Facebook Fans 796.524 19
Instagram 23.8 27
YouTube 22.922 14
Skift Rating 78
Tier 14 Ryanair
Brand Valuation USD$M 1,083 24
Change from 2014 0
Brand Rating AA+ 24
Klout 74 22
Twitter Follows 198 17
Facebook Fans 559.823 25
Instagram 33.1 23
YouTube 7.441 25
Skift Rating 77
Tier 15 China Southern Airlines
Brand Valuation USD$M 1,993 16
Change from 2014 -29%
Brand Rating AA+ 16
Klout 86.0 6
Twitter Follows 3 31
Facebook Fans 26 31
Instagram 8 28
YouTube 125 31
Skift Rating 76
Tier 15 Korean Air
Brand Valuation USD$M 1,513 18
Change from 2014 -11%
Brand Rating AA 18
Klout 63.3 26
Twitter Follows 86.379 26
Facebook Fans 298.821 30
Instagram 27.7 26
YouTube 10 21
Skift Rating 76
Tier 16 Aeroflot
Brand Valuation USD$M 1,003 25
Change from 2014 -35%
Brand Rating AA 25
Klout 63 26
Twitter Follows 103 25
Facebook Fans 29.968 31
Instagram 106 19
YouTube 9.463 23
Skift Rating 75
Tier 17 Air China
Brand Valuation USD$M 2,953 8
Change from 2014 11%
Brand Rating AA 8
Klout 54 31
Twitter Follows 7.412 31
Facebook Fans 254.547 31
Instagram 1.722 29
YouTube 298 (Inactive) 31
Skift Rating 73
Tier 17 China Eastern Airlines
Brand Valuation USD$M 2,914 10
Change from 2014 0%
Brand Rating AA 10
Klout n/a 31
Twitter Follows 2.025 31
Facebook Fans 106.497 31
Instagram 340 31
YouTube 79 31
Skift Rating 73
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