It’s a 5 Star Airline, But What Does That Mean?

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  • What Airlines Are Ranked At 5 Stars?

When you imagine a five-star experience, thoughts of expensive champagnes, caviar, and exclusive liquor dominate the luxury mood board. While five-star airlines can really be a luxury in the skies that include some of those things, the ranking system for commercial aviation proves to be a bit more nuanced than all-out luxurious.

So what does being a “5-Star Airline” actually mean? There are many factors, including the quality of the cabin, service, amenities, and much more, so if you’re flying one of these airlines, you can expect an experience that may be just a touch more pleasant than other airlines.


Related: Is Flying First Class Worth It? Let’s Ask Reddit

So Who Awards The Stars?

The Michelin Guide awards stars to restaurants. AAA awards diamonds to hotels. And Skytrax awards stars to airlines. Skytrax is a United Kingdom-based aviation consultancy that conducts regular airline reviews but also offers business help to airlines who contract with them.

A bevy of aviation vloggers have a few choice things to say about the company, including about whom the company works with and how these airlines fall on the rating system. However, by and by, the company’s star system still dominates the classification of airlines around the world.

What Airlines Are Ranked At 5 Stars?

According to Skytrax, there are between 500 to 800 aspects of the airline and home airport that the company analyzes in order to award these ratings. Skytrax makes it clear that customer reviews do not play a part in their star awards decisions; they rely on the research and reporting from Skytrax analysts to come to their conclusions.

Since 1999 when Skytrax began the World Airline Star Rating, only 10 airlines have achieved the top tier of a 5-Star airline. In 2022, these ten airlines are ANA All Nippon Airways, Asiana Airlines, Cathay Pacific Airways, EVA Air, Garuda Indonesia, Hainan Airlines, Japan Airlines, Korean Air, Qatar Airways, and Singapore Airlines.

Notably missing are the Middle Eastern carriers that have made luxury their hallmark, including Emirates and Etihad Airways. While rated as 4-Star airlines, it’s possible that these airlines’ omissions have to do with the overall experience regardless of the cabin. Emirates and Etihad excel in the upper-class luxury offerings.

Related: 20 Things Only People Who Fly First Class Can Tell Us About These Airlines Skytrax’s has also created a fairly new ranking system that details the best airlines to fly during COVID-19. These awards account for the airlines’ use of contactless technology, social distancing, and customer handling during check-in, onboard, and upon arrival. While many of the 5-Star Airlines are represented on this list of the “World’s 5-Star COVID-19 Airlines,” there is more of a diversity of airlines overall on the best airlines to fly during COVID-19.

Hard Product

The “hard product” describes the tangible things on a flight– things like the plane itself, the seats, the in-flight entertainment, etc. It’s the things that aren’t as easily “changed out” and are fixed regardless of who the cabin crew is or even the airline itself. Hard products are, of course, important aspects in ranking airlines since it’s the hard takeaway many passengers will remember.

While not a usual concern for the majority of travelers, your aircraft type and even age can affect how nice the hard product of your flight is, especially when it comes to your seat. Many 5-Star airlines fly long-haul routes, and thus, their aircraft are equipped to fly these long flights in relative comfort. When comparing three of these airlines (Singapore Airlines, ANA, and Qatar Airways), the vast majority of them fly wide-body aircraft, including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing 777, Airbus A350, and the double-decker A380. This often means better seat pitches, higher ceilings, and larger overhead cabin space.

Aircraft maintenance is also a big factor when determining whether the hard product of the airlines measures up to a 5-Star expectation. So, theoretically, these 5-Star airlines should have well-kept seats, properly working in-flight entertainment systems, and clean / functioning lavatories.

Fixed onboard amenities are also considered hard products, so things like in-flight entertainment are something that a hopeful 5-Star airline will get judged for. You may notice that there’s more of a choice of things to watch on a 5-Star airline than the random episode of a serial television show.

Soft Product

Soft products, or the changeable, less fixed amenities, are where 5-Star airlines really separate themselves from the rest of the world. It starts with the ground and customer service; a flyer’s experience can be made much more enjoyable when an airline invests in a good beginning. 5-Star airlines, especially at their home airports, often offer above-average service. This is even more prevalent if you’re flying any of the upgraded cabins; premium check-in services, fast-tracked security, and lux lounges are waiting for the business or first class traveler.

5-Star airlines, throughout their cabin classes, are further judged on soft products like onboard service and hospitality and catering. Often, the most famous 5-Star airlines are world-renowned for their cabin crew hospitality; they commonly advertise in one form or another the rigorous training that cabin crew must go through in order to live up to their 5-Star standards.

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