Last Updated on July 27, 2023 by Stacey Levesque
Airline service has declined over time. Aren’t they all pretty much the same?
Before US airline deregulation in the early 1980s, airlines used to have regulated fares. This is not unlike when you see a regulated fare in a taxi – a set fee from point A to point B to prevent a race to the bottom, financial failures, and ultimately a lack of reliable transportation service.
Airlines used to have to file fares for approval with the Government, and, two Governments for flights between two countries. All airlines had pretty much the same fares with the sale conditions of booking and travel, and the only difference between airline prices would be how many seats were sold on each flight.
Regularly scheduled flights routinely operated at less than 70% full, other than group charter flights (which did not operate on a regular schedule).
Some of us remember the old days – Wardair – decent legroom, a choice of decent meals on Royal Dalton China with real cutlery, an open bar, attentive flight attendants refilling regularly, and a few open economy seats to spread out on longer flights. If you were lucky enough to fly First Class on some airlines, the upstairs bar on the 747 bubble or upper deck was a nice way to stretch one’s legs and have a cigarette or two!
Deregulation, real-time digital revenue management, and a race to the bottom on low fares have brought us what we have today. Travel has exploded, but the glory days of service have declined. And yet, I doubt most of us would trade the ergonomics of the modern airline seat, entertainment system (personal or on board) in exchange for a pre-1980s airfare indexed to 2023 dollars for inflation.
That said, there are big differences between airline services, and it depends on which part of the service you feel is more important. Short and average-height people may have little desire to pay for a bigger seat, but the softer elements of air travel service may be the difference. The number of flight attendants, the boarding process, onboard meals on longer flights, entertainment systems & wifi.
Skytrax is an organization that rates airlines annually, sort of like “Consumers’ Reports” do cars and appliances. There is an overall 3, 4, and 5-star rating of airlines and more detail on individual aspects of service.
Here’s a summary of Canada’s airlines and a few bigger US and foreign airlines that operate from Canada. Click the links to see the detail of the Skytrax rating.