Etihad Airways Withdraws From Skytrax

Yesterday I wrote a post entitled “Emirates vs. Etihad First Class: Which Is Better?”

In the comments section of that post, an interesting discussion emerged regarding the merits of Skytrax. Wwk5d wrote:

Also, does anybody take Skytrax seriously? That thing is more rigged than FIFA.

And it went from there.

Etihad Airways is withdrawing from Skytrax

The timing of this is kind of funny, because just today Etihad Airways announced that they’ll be withdrawing from Skytrax, which does air travel rating & reviews.


Etihad Airways, the national airline of the UAE, said on Sunday it has sent a letter to Skytrax formally announcing its decision to withdraw from the organisation, including the Skytrax World Airline Awards and the Skytrax Audit.

The decision makes the airline ineligible for any further Skytrax World Airline Awards, including World’s Best Airline, World’s Best Business Class and World’s Best Cabin Crew.

In the 2013 awards, Etihad placed seventh in Skytrax’s list of the world’s top 10 airlines, with UAE rival Emirates taking the top prize.

The decision was made after Etihad Airways carried out a review of the criteria and measurement of the Skytrax Airline Rating System, the airline said in a statement, without giving further details.

World’s best airline 2013?

To get at the root of what (I assume) frustrates Etihad, lets take a quick look at the 2013 winners of the “World’s Best Airline” award from Skytrax:

  1. Emirates
  2. Qatar Airways
  3. Singapore Airlines
  4. ANA All Nippon Airways
  5. Asiana Airlines
  6. Cathay Pacific Airways
  7. Etihad Airways
  8. Garuda Indonesia
  9. Turkish Airlines
  10. Qantas Airways

Is Emirates better than Etihad?

So is Emirates objectively better than Etihad? If we’re talking about the overall onboard product, I think almost certainly not. I mean, Emirates is an airline that doesn’t even have a flat bed business class product on over 75% of their fleet. With the exception of the A380, all their business class seats are angled flat at best.

Meanwhile Etihad does have a fully flat business class product throughout their longhaul fleet. So from the perspective of a business traveler, I’m not sure how you could argue with that.

Etihad Airways business class

Qatar Airways has the world’s best business class?!

It’s also rather puzzling that Qatar Airways won the “World’s Best Airline” award in 2011 and 2012, and in 2013 won the award for “World’s Best Business Class.”

A vast majority of their longhaul fleet is made up of 777s, which feature fully flat forward facing seats, which are about as “basic” as modern business class seats get. At Etihad Airways every longhaul business class seat has direct aisle access, while that’s not the case at Qatar Airways. Beyond that, Qatar Airways has angled flat seats on many of their A330s and A340s, which they deploy on longhaul routes.

Looking at it objectively, can anyone argue that across the board Qatar Airways offers a better business class product than Etihad Airways? Anyone? I don’t think so…

So is Skytrax rigged?

Does that mean Skytrax is rigged? Nope, I don’t think so. This is simply what happens when you issue awards based on “popular votes.” People haven’t flown every airline, and they all use different criteria to vote.

I understand Etihad Airways’ frustration. They consistently rank substantially below Emirates and Qatar Airways, which they don’t deserve to. I mean, they’re one spot above Garuda Indonesia (and how they’re in the “top 10” opens a new can of worms, despite how gorgeous their new 777-300ERs are). I’d be sorta pissed as well.

But it’s not really any different than the Freddie Awards, which offer loyalty programs awards based on popular voting (though there’s also a “value vote” aspect to it).

It amazes me year after year how well Marriott Rewards does at the Freddie Awards. Objectively they’re less rewarding than Hyatt and Starwood while having higher qualification tiers. But their members still love Marriott Rewards. There are only two major reasons I can think of:

  • They have hotels just about everywhere, so have a lot more coverage than Hyatt and Starwood
  • They do a great job managing expectations — if you don’t offer a lot and go beyond that, then members will be delighted

Bottom line

I “get” Etihad’s frustration. It makes sense. They’re ranking way behind comparable airlines. But that’s the joy of “popular” voting by consumers with an information bias.

Does that make Etihad a sore loser, or just smart for not wanting to be “ranked” unfairly? What do you guys think?

Filed Under: Etihad
  1. I expect other airlines to follow suit by withdrawing from SkyTrax ratings. To my knowledge, SkyTrax doesn’t disclose results of the survey, just a simple 1-10 rating for each category.

  2. I still stand by my belief that Skytrax is a useful tool for assessing how good an airline is. Sure, the judging criteria is clearly variable between customers, but it is a platform to allow all to share their views and vote. Etihad doesn’t want to be ranked “unfairly” (note the change of word in quotations), but shouldn’t it try to find a way to change how people vote to get themselves maybe more coverage, or a better job at managing expectations as Lucky suggested Marriott has done?

    This is the entire value behind a free voting system. There is obviously no set standard that can be applied across all candidates and all voters. But that is a system that we have come to value – people value democracy for the ability to express their views and give power to the masses. And if you just withdraw… then…

  3. And the essence is not necessarily the final result. It is the content within the comments the travellers give. Even with Etihad withdrawing, another airline will still get the title, will still get the publicity, will still grab people’s attention. There won’t be a disclaimer at the end that says “Airline X won the award out of participating airlines, the list of which did not include Etihad”. And those ‘not in the know’ just wouldn’t know, and probably wouldn’t care.

  4. You didn’t mention how Etihad has consistently won the Skytrax awards for Best First Class & Best First Class Seat & Best First Class Catering (even without caviar) for a few years now.

  5. I think Etihad probably feels they deserve a “5 Star” SKYTRAX rating. Only seven airlines are at this top tier. Two: Malaysia and Asiana have (likely very negligently) crashed planes recently killing passengers. Yet, they remain 5 Star ranked??

    The rating/awards business is just that – there is a great expectation for the winner to buy many many plaques, trophies, etc. to place across their offices/media yielding companies like SKYTRAX big revenues and press. If they don’t play along, they don’t win.

    I like reading the latest passenger reviews on SKYTRAX, but they don’t seem to base the Star ratings enough on these.

  6. I flew Qatar business two weeks ago in the 772 and 773 and it’s definitely six across seating.

  7. Qatar Airways does not have 7 across in business class on any of their aircrafts.. They have 2-2-2 configuration on 777s, A340s and A330s.

  8. This really just helps to expose the problems with trying to rank airlines. Obviously we could probably mostly agree on placing airlines into “tiers,” but actually ranking them means making decisions about what is more important (seating type, food, service, sleep, lounges, etc) which different people rank very differently. Rankings can also be effected by whether they are based on an airline’s “flagship” product (ie. EK A380 business class product) or whether the entire fleet is looked at. Rankings based on voting will always be greatly skewed toward big airlines that lots of people fly. Probably my favorite business class I’ve ever flown is Air New Zealand, but they rarely make the lists because they are a small airline that relatively few people have ever flown. In my mind, awards and rankings have little value beyond providing airlines with material for advertising.

  9. And let’s be clear what “withdrawing” means. It would seem to mean not giving them any more money. Which is something that airlines that are ‘eligible’ since they haven’t ‘withdrawn’ must continue to do.

  10. “It would seem to mean not giving them any more money.” Citation needed.

    Either way, it’s a difference with no distinction, and the effect is the same as a request for exclusion. Result? No more participation with Skytrax.

    Which is not exactly the ANSI or ISO of airline standards…

  11. It’s not just on A380s, Emirates has the “new” business class seats on a few of their 777s as well – which I believe are the ones that travel the longer routes. I have not been on one yet, but friends flying to at least Australia (I believe it was Brisbane) have confirmed that. They also mention that on their website. Just FYI.

    PS: Hopefully more will follow Etihad’s move, but I doubt it.

  12. Actually, it’s not their new seat, it’s their old seat only fully flat. You still have to climb over the person sitting next to you if you are sitting by the Window on the middle seat of the 2-3-2 configuration. But flat, nevertheless.

  13. I have never trusted Skytrax since they declared Air Canada to be a four star airline.

  14. Maybe Etihad so sick about Skytrax’s so many many awardlike me – best North America Airlines, best Central America Airlines, best Indian Ocean Airlines, best China Airlines, beat business catering airlines, best airlines pillow, best airlines toilet, best airlines beverage, best Mongolia Airlines, best Singapore airlines, best airlines blanket…

  15. I really thought Air Koryo was a much better than 1 star experience when I flew it earlier this year…

  16. I seem to recall in a recent report SKYTRAX saying that one of the criteria for being a 5* airline is NOT having 10-across seating on 777s. Also, just before the recent MH incident, they were actually under review and in the end managed to maintain their 5* status.

  17. Is there a good overview/article on how Skytrax works and the issues associated with their ranking system?

  18. I must agree that Etihad is a very good airlines. I cannot make a direct comparison between Emirates and Etihad but Etihad has always provided very good services. Many people rely on Skytrack ratings to plan their journey and if it is rigged, they need to take some strong action to correct the situation.

  19. Skytrax just announced the 2014 winners and it looks like Etihad is still there in the rankings. Etihad ranked first in First Class catering.

    The big surprise for me is Saudia. They’re ranked best economy seat and best first class amenity. Then again, I flew Saudia in business class two weeks ago and will admit I enjoyed the experience (flew it in 747 and 777). For the 777, they only had 9 abreast in economy in 3-3-3 configuration with a very spacious pray room area at the back of economy.

  20. Skytrax is a useless institution since they are subjective. In the best case their ratings distinguish the better airlines from the worst. I would not be surprised if some airlines have helped out with complimentary First Class tickets.

    Very obviously Skytrax is favoring certain Middle Eastern carriers. For example: Objectively seen, Emirates with their steadily declining service and professionalism plus their inconsistency would be a 3.5 star airlines by now. Their 4.5 star days are long gone! I am traveling in First & Business for many years and see carriers going down or up. I have my own opinion and comparison and certain highly praised airlines are rather mediocre in reality.

    Really a nice step of Etihad to kick out Skytrax. Other airlines should follow! Actually Skytrax has a professional rating system in place but they keep it in dark how certain airlines get good marks. No details would ever be disclosed.

    Neither Hainan Airlines is 5-star nor Emirates should be – objectively seen – anywhere on any of their top-10 lists. Something smells strange…. corrupt…???

  21. @pacifico: You forgot “Best Airsickness Bag”( this would be a Vuitton barf bag if an airline had one); “Coolest Pre-Departure Vibe” (Virgin America) , and “Most Controlled Descent Into Terrain” (Germanwings)

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