British airline consultancy Skytrax last week released its annual ranking of the world’s top 100 airlines, and both of Canada’s major carriers earned a spot on the list. Air Canada came in at No. 27, and WestJet landed at No. 47. (Update: as a commenter helpfully pointed out on Facebook, the regional airline Porter Air is also on the list at No. 48, just one spot below WestJet. I’ve updated the chart above.)
All perfectly respectable results, of course—but as you can see from the chart showing data from the last five available rankings, Air Canada is showing some slippage down the leaderboard in the last few years. WestJet, jostling in the middle of the pack, shows more volatility and a lower ranking overall, but if you dig into the rankings a bit more, it measures up quite well against its discount peers. It lands at No. 8 on the low-cost airline ranking, and the No. 2 discount airline in North America, trailing Virgin America. And though Porter is also still middling in the ranking overall, it’s shown a remarkably rapid ascent.
The Skytrax rankings are based on customer surveys about all aspects of the flying experience, from seat comfort, customer service, quality of airport lounges, and in-flight entertainment options. So what accounts for the slow erosion of Air Canada’s esteem with travellers? Perhaps flyers are chafing at the proliferation of baggage and other ancillary fees, as Chris Sorensen chronicled in this recent Maclean’s cover story:
A term has even been coined to reflect what airlines are inflicting on their customers: calculated misery. Want to sit with your family? Pay extra for advance seat selection. Uncomfortable in your economy-class seat? Pay to upgrade to a larger one that was only squeezed in because your original seat was shrunk.
But nowhere has the strategy been as lucrative for airlines’ bottom lines as the decision to charge for checking bags. In addition to asking passengers to pay for a formerly free service, the new fees have helped spawn a whole new family of optional charges related to advance boarding privileges—all the better to beat the rush of passengers lugging swollen carry-on luggage into the cabin and tying up precious overhead bin space.
It may be a smidge less popular with passengers now, but Air Canada shareholders have every reason to be happy: over that same five years, its stock has soared more than 600%.