As consumers gear up for the holiday travel season, Zagat released the results of its 2010 airline survey today. The survey covers 16 domestic and 74 international airlines, as well as 30 major domestic airports. Conducted on ZAGAT.com, the survey is based on over 8,000 frequent fliers who collectively took 139,300 flights in the past year. Zagat has reviewed the airline industry since 1990. In recent years, most major airlines’ ratings have dropped precipitously.

My compatriot took a look at these ratings from a Class Grading point of view. It brings the overall results into a different and sad focus.

Surveying: Each airline was separately rated on Zagat’s signature 30-point scale on its premium and economy class service for both domestic and international flights. The airlines were rated on four aspects of their performance: (1) Comfort, (2) Service, (3) Food and (4) Website. Other categories such as Value, Timeliness, Check-in and Luggage Policy and In-Flight Entertainment were also covered.

Economy: While the industry continues to feel the effects of the recession, it has shown signs of recovery this year. Surveyors reported taking an average of 17.4 flights in 2010, which is up from 16.6 flights in 2009 and 16.3 in 2008. This is still below the all-time high of 19.7 in 2007. Business flights continue to outweigh leisure, by roughly 3-to-2.

Checking-In: When asked how they react to fees for checked luggage, 45% of surveyors say they try to avoid flying such airlines; 42% say they have frequent flyer status on an airline that waves luggage fees; 33% say they travel only with a carry-on and 18% grudgingly opt to pay the fees. Southwest Airlines is a favorite among surveyors, winning Best Check-in Experience, as well as Best Luggage Policy, Best Consumer On-Time Estimates, Top Website and Best Value among domestic airlines.

“While fliers are slowly but surely returning to the skies, they remain focused on good values and reliable service,” said Tim Zagat, CEO of Zagat Survey. “Airlines like Virgin America, Southwest, JetBlue and Continental score well with surveyors for precisely this reason.”

Flying High: For the third year in a row, Continental is the Top Overall winner among large domestic airlines for its premium service. JetBlue took top honors among large economy class carriers. Virgin America is the top mid-sized carrier for both classes, earning 24 on Zagat’s 30-point scale for its premium service, and 21 for economy. International carriers continue to outperform domestic airlines. Singapore Airlines, the perennial winner, earned an impressive 28 rating for international premium class airlines and 24 for international economy service. Other international winners were Cathay Pacific Airways, Emirates Airlines and Qatar Airways, all rated a 26 for premium services. The full list of winners ranked by overall score is as follows:







Choice Factors:
When choosing a flight, respondents’ main considerations are not surprising: direct routes (65%), ticket price (55%), past experiences (50%), time of day (48%) and seat comfort/leg room (46%). If a meal is not offered on the flight, and most aren’t, 55% of surveyors opt to purchase food in the airport, while 18% bring food from home.

Book It: When it comes to booking flights, airline websites have become predominant for 64% and 63% of surveyors in the past two years, compared to 60% in 2007 and 2008. Booking through the office jumped from 2% to 10% in the same time period, while travel agents fell from 17% to 10%. A 64% majority report using their frequent flier miles to book free flights, while 28% use them for upgrades.

Airport Quality: Surveyors have once again rated Portland International as their favorite airport based on overall quality, followed by Tampa International, Salt Lake City International, Detroit Wayne County and Denver International. The bottom five airports based on overall quality are some of the busiest, John F. Kennedy International, Philadelphia International, Los Angeles International, Miami International, and, consistently coming in last place since 2007, is New York’s LaGuardia Airport.

Here We Are Now, Entertain Us:
In-flight entertainment has become increasingly important to surveyors who have to contend with crowding and flight delays throughout the year. For the third year in a row, JetBlue (domestic) and Virgin Atlantic (international) win for “Best In-Flight Entertainment.”

And now … the comments. These are priceless.

The only thing missing is a blindfold and a cigarette.

At least they haven’t killed me yet.

My bags get better service, but they pay extra.

Flight attendants seem to have trained with Frau Blucher.

PBS…paralyzed butt syndrome!

The only difference between economy and business classes is a shrimp on your salad.

“Unwelcome aboard!”

Not sure if I really want to know that Captain Skippy is flying today.

I don’t love getting up-close-and-personal with the head of the person in front of me.

Who made them mad at their customers?

Point a to point b with a bag of pretzels.

Entree selections should be labeled “choose your poison.”

Service without a smile…or a smile without service.

A violation of the Geneva Convention.

Staff must use Orwell’s 1984 as a training manual.

Only an option when it’s the only option.

When two crummy medium-size airlines merge, all you get is a crummy large airline.

Seats make an iron maiden seem comfortable.

Like a cattle car, except the cows are mercifully slaughtered at trip’s end.