Gone are the days of elegant, sophisticated air travel. As flying has become a common practice for most, the majority of airlines have eliminated nearly all elements of the experience that would cause a passenger to feel distinctive, unique, or truly cared for. It has become a mere concentration on profitability by cutting costs (and experience) and increasing revenue (by adding more passengers per aircraft). The positive experience of air travel is essentially absent. And most travelers have accepted it. It seems it’s now simply about getting from one point to another.
There still are, however, a few extraordinary carriers in the world. Last month I flew the world’s best and I learned a few lessons along the way. My family and I flew Qatar Airways from the U.S. to South Africa. Qatar Airways holds the 2015 designation as the World’s Best Airline.
SKYTRAX is the industry authority on airline ratings and awards. The SKYTRAX World Airline Awards are the most coveted quality accolades for the airline industry. Travelers across the globe take part each year in the world’s largest international airline passenger satisfaction survey to decide the award winners. The survey measures standards across 41 key performance indicators of airline front-line product and service – levels of service in the air and on the ground.
As is the case with most industries, airline ratings range from 1-Star to the prestigious 5-Star ranking. Quality performance, safety, and customer satisfaction are key indicators. Airlines are evaluated by their standards of airport and onboard excellence together with consistency of service delivered across all environments. Qatar Airways is one of the select few 5 star airlines in the world.
None of the U.S. carriers are even close. For comparison, all of the major American players are 3 Star Airlines – American Airlines (AAL), Delta Air Lines (DAL), Southwest Airlines (LUV), and United Airlines (UAL). I’m sure that’s of little or no surprise.
As the best airline in the world, Qatar Airways is a five-star ranked carrier committed to providing levels of service that exceed passenger expectations. As the national carrier of the State of Qatar, Qatar Airways has grown from a regional player into an award-winning international airline, today recognized as the world’s best. Only in its 18th year of operations, Qatar Airways is one of the world’s fastest growing airlines, expanding at a phenomenal rate each year. From its hub in Doha, the carrier serves more than 150 key business and leisure destinations across six continents.
Here are three of the lessons I learned from the world’s best airline.
1. Exceptional Staffing
The first element I noticed about Qatar Airways was how friendly and accommodating every employee was. From ticketing agents to gate agents to cabin crew there was a sincere helpfulness that was astonishing. I was particularly surprised by the consistency in the quality of employees I came across. It wasn’t a handful of excellent employees but every single employee. Multiple members of the cabin crew came to our seats before each flight left the gate to introduce themselves to us, ask our names, and make sure we knew that they were there to serve us and if we needed anything to please let them know. They were constantly welcoming, approachable, and helpful along the way. No employee seemed to be faking it either – they all seemed genuinely interested in serving. By the second or third flight I found myself asking the question, “Where do they find these people?” I’m sure what we experienced is a combination of thorough hiring and meticulous training. Whatever it was, it was truly hospitable.
2. Personal Touch
Personalization is a huge part of customer experience. Few consumers want what everyone else has. This is the very reason the same product comes in multiple sizes and colors. A personalized experience – by its very nature – is different from the status quo. You’re not just getting what everyone else is getting with personalization. Instead, you’re getting something tailored to you. And because of that, it makes you feel uniquely cared for and more in control. Modern technology has allowed businesses to take advantage of personalization and customization. Qatar Airways understands this. When I purchased our tickets the airline asked me to make meal selections tailored to our interests and preferences. I’m not talking about the typical selection between meat and vegetarian. I had the option to select from 18 different meal types. This was hugely helpful considering we were traveling with a baby and a toddler – both uninterested in eating poached salmon and arugula.
Another personal touch that surprised me was the conscious effort the cabin crew made at remembering the names of the passengers. As I mentioned earlier, the crew asked our names while we were seated at the gate. The more impressive part was that they remembered our names 14 hours later. At one point I walked to the back of the aircraft toward the end of a long flight and a crew member said, “Hello Mr. Smith. How is Weston sleeping?” This personal touch was not uncommon.
3. Attention to Detail
There was an obvious effort put into every detail of our experience. Not only was the service thoughtful, each element of the flight seemed deliberate and measured. I noticed this in the big things like how the fleet of aircraft is one of the youngest and most modern in the skies and in the small things like how fresh cut flowers were placed in the cabin. Every aspect of the plane was noticeably cleaner than anticipated. Seats were comfortable and legroom was generous.
Dining onboard was not like the food you would expect to eat on an airplane. I found out that the award-winning dining is developed by in-house Chefs that work tirelessly to bring fresh and delicious dishes on every route. Qatar Airways explains, “We understand that food is about pleasure, enjoyment and sharing which is why all of our meals and desserts are prepared with a focus on the quality and the freshness of the ingredients.” Not what you expect at 30,000 feet.
Another unexpected aspect was how the airline so abundantly accommodated our children. On each flight the kids were each given a stuffed animal and a substantial activity kit. This was in addition to the impressive specialty meals and availability of complimentary diapers, wipes and baby food.
Every aspect of our journey seemed carefully considered and executed effortlessly. We certainly experienced the highest standards of inflight service.