AI reveals world’s worst airline (it’s not United)

Posted: 27 April 2017 | By Darcie Thompson-Fields

When it comes to flying, we all have an opinion on who’s the best and who’s the worst, with varying reasons of justification.

Just recently at Access AI towers for example, the team was embroiled in a long discussion on the benefits of flying to San Francisco with Norwegian rather than British Airways, whilst I personally always prefer to fly Virgin Atlantic where possible. Our reasons were mixed and varied. Leg room, food, staff, punctuality, entertainment and so on.

With recent high-profile events in the airline industry, most notably United being sent kicking and screaming onto every possible media out-put, we thought we’d revisit some recent research from AI analytics firm Luminoso who used its natural language processing software to read and analyse reviews from 19 global airlines to determine the good from the bad.

The move is an expansion on a similar project conducted back in 2014, which analysed 157,000 tweets on five specific US based airlines. In that particular instance, Virgin America was a crowd favourite, while United was great at infuriating its passengers. Who would have guessed that one?

Time for a redo

This time, rather than analysing tweets, which are prolific but too short to contain much detail, Luminoso pulled reviews from Skytrax, a UK-based consultancy that runs an airline and airport review website.

Skytrax does put out its own rankings of different airlines, but Luminoso decided to take a very different approach. Rather than ranking the airlines on the basis of the purely quantitative scores accompanying the reviews (5 stars, 4 stars, etc.), they performed an in-depth analysis of the reviews themselves. In short, they took the detailed and nuanced feedback provided by customers and used those to create rankings for a wide variety of categories and topics – not just general rankings based on the average number of stars given in a review.


Qatar Airways took the lead in the most categories, pulling in the highest scores for its great food, seat comfort and amount of legroom, its lounge, and the check-in process.

If great customer service is what you value, though, you should be flying Swiss International Airlines, and for good entertainment options, book a seat on Lufthansa.

Spirit took the unwanted honour of being the least favourite airline, being most associated with high fees, and scored poorly across almost all other categories.

Other interesting patterns that emerged from the data:

  • It seems that missed connections and delays (comments related to “inconvenience”) combined with a staff’s poor operational management and an uncaring attitude (reviews related to “frustration”) were the two feelings that, combined, lead most to the lowest ratings. “Bad food” was also one of the topics that almost always appeared in a bad review.
  • Interestingly, the data showed that people generally seemed to leave high ratings if their bad experiences took place on the first leg of their journey and if, during the remainder of their trip, they were left with positive experiences (especially great, friendly, caring service). So it would seem that bad experiences can be erased if excellent experiences follow the bad.
  • Curiously, there was a strong correlation that emerged between a high level of positive sentiment around security (i.e. a satisfying security check-point experience), and comfort (i.e. seats/legroom).

Of course, these results were pulled together prior to THAT incident with United earlier this month. We look forward to seeing how the results change, if at all, when Luminoso carries out its next test.

The complete results

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