Survey shows SAA is ‘worst’ in customer satisfaction

A poll of domestic passengers shows that FlySafair performs the best, but that all airlines should improve service.
Passenger satisfaction is an indicator of the future profitability of an airline. Image: Shutterstock

Consulta, a South African research group that measures customer satisfaction, happened to publish its SA Customer Satisfaction Index for airlines in the week SAA was again making headlines for all the wrong reasons, with nobody having anything nice to say about our national carrier.

The index also had only bad news for SAA. It shows that, among domestic airlines, customers rate the national carrier the worst on most aspects.

Interestingly, SAA’s low-cost airline, Mango, scored well in the report and beat some of its competitors with regards to customer satisfaction, value for money and the number of complaints by customers, as well as the handling of complaints.

Read: SAA may have recorded a loss of more than R9bn in the past year

Overall, FlySafair performed the best of all the airlines, scoring 78 out of a possible 100.

SAA performed the worst in all the categories measured. In addition, it scored far lower than all the other airlines. It attained an overall score of just below 69 compared to the industry average of nearly 73.

The research collected data from passengers flying on domestic flights with British Airways (Comair), FlySafair, Kulula (also owned by Comair), Mango and SAA. The survey polled 1 025 customers flying locally, with the report stating that domestic travel is the dominant segment in terms of passenger volumes.

Airline customer satisfaction index, overall score
FlySafair 78.0
British Airways 75.7
Kulula 74.4
Mango 74.0
SAA 68.8
Average 72.4

Source: Consulta

One of the telling results is that customers of all airlines felt that the price they paid for tickets was not fair when looking at the quality of service provided by the airline. In short, passengers felt tickets are too expensive when considering what they got for their money.

Among the unhappy passengers, those flying with Kulula were the happiest.

Consulta notes in the report that Kulula had the smallest gap between price and quality at -0.6.

SAA performed the worst when comparing price to quality with a negative gap of 6.2 – showing that SAA customers were extremely unhappy when comparing service and price.

However, passengers still thought they got value for their money overall, with FlySafair customers thinking that their airline gave them good value for their money. FlySafair was the clear leader in terms of perceived value with a score of 83.4. Kulula and Mango were tied in second place with 78.8, while SAA was the worst at 66.7 points.

Expectations versus reality

FlySafair and Mango both performed better than their passengers had expected. Using an internationally approved statistical model, Consulta calculated a positive expectation/quality score of 5.6 for FlySafair and 0.7 for Mango.

SAA had the largest negative gap of 0.9 followed by Kulula with -0.6. This shows that customers received service of a worse quality than they expected from both airlines.

Luckily, the report notes that airlines have improved compared to five years ago. It states that scores for meeting customers’ expectations and perceived value for money have increased for all airlines, with the exception of SAA.

Customers are also more likely to recommend a particular airline to family and friends after their flights. That wasn’t the case when the same research was done in 2014, according to the researchers.

Tight margins

Professor Adré Schreuder, founder and chair of SAcsi, which publishes the customer satisfaction index, says it is important for airlines to deliver the best customer experience given increasing competition and tight margins in the industry.

“The airline industry is a high-volume, low-margin industry where customer satisfaction and experiences are crucial factors in airline sustainability. In the face of calls for privatisation and removal of political interference, SAA has a monumental task to prove that it can meet customer needs and return to profitability,” says Schreuder.

In fact, his research shows that all the domestic airlines fall far short when looking at the number of complaints and the manner in which complaints are handled. Nearly 5% of passengers coming off a British Airways or Mango flight indicated to the research team that they had complaints.

Passengers stepping off SAA planes had the most complaints. How many of these passengers filed official complaints was not followed up.

Red flags for airlines

Schreuder describes the high number of complaints – which are largely not resolved – as a red flag for airlines. “Airlines need to review their incidence of complaints, as well as the complaint handling process and resolution,” he says.

His research shows that Kulula performed poorly on complaint handling and resolution, resolving less than 34% of complaints satisfactorily. SAA resolved nearly 43% of its complaints, with British Airways performing the best and resolving nearly 70% of complaints.

“When you consider that two-thirds of Kulula complaints and more than half of SAA complaints are not handled to a satisfactory level for customers, it will have a direct and very negative impact on overall customer satisfaction and loyalty,” says Schreuder.

“Passengers don’t simply buy a ticket, they purchase a travel experience. Improving that experience, from booking and checking in, through security to baggage handling and collection, all form part of customer satisfaction,” says Schreuder.

Consulta says that measuring customer satisfaction is a strategic tool for gauging the competitiveness of individual firms and is important in predicting future profitability as it provides an indication of how well the firm will perform in terms of future revenue and earnings.

The report did not say how the strike at SAA might impact on customer perceptions or try to predict its future.



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What are these complaints? What is there to complain about? If you get safely to your destination with your cup of coffee you bought on the plane, then all is good? Yes?

The prices SAA charge not only include safety. They claim they include a quality service too. At an additional price added to the basic ticket price. If the rename on what they claim they offer, they fail and loose ratings. Simple as that.

Buying your coffee on the plane is what happens on low cost carriers. SAA is a full service airline. You have the two types confused.

There are two types?

Why would any sane person fly SAA?

Next time I’ll take my toolbox

Monopoly on some routes.

Here is a very recent example. Flying economy return and direct between Perth Australia and Johannesburg. AUD 2 300, on an old plane and questionable service records.

Do this with nearly any other airline the cost AUD 2 100 but via the likes of Dubai (yes I know, double the distance and time), yet it cost less not to mention the awesome service and not so sure why SAA is so expensive if not for their monopoly.

Here another example not involving SAA but I have difficulty understanding how they price their tickets. Virgin Australia/Delta: Perth>Sydney>Los Angeles>Mexico return Mexico<Los Angeles<Melbourne<Perth all for AUD 2 500. Now I beg the question why is SAA so expensive?

The day when Qantas gets their way with a direct flight between Perth and Johannesburg it is a near guarantee that SAA route will collapse.

I wonder if Perth airport and SAA is in bed together, since its Perth airport that on more than 2 occasions, declined for Qantas to also provide this route.

Did Perth airport learn from SAA how to rip of their travellers?

I do however would like to commend the SAA air hostesses trying to call ET home from my broken infight entertainment system. Point being that the system is broken , but kudos to the people on the ground keeping it real . Unlike any of the Asian and American Airlines I have flown on , the in-flight staff really do try their best ,and perform a world class service , given the constraints they have .Can’t say the same for the parasitic entities running the organization, tarnishing every one’s image .

Friend of mine flew on the last flight to London last week. First class, they had forgotten the menu’s in JHB and the hostess was unable to tell him what was in the warmer.

I flew business class once on Voyager miles one way from Johannesburg to Perth. Besides the old plane and SAA “business class” not nearly the same quality as most other airlines, despite paying much more for this privilege.

They “forgot” to change the menu and what was given to us as business class passengers was not what as to be served 🙂

Not to mention the “shortage” of blankets/pillows and the uncomfortable bed compared to other airlines.

I do believe that the opposition airlines are having a field day, extra flights, all chock a block full.

Jip, die een se dood is die ander een se brood.

And, they deserve to have a field day given that they excel in inflight service as per their ratings.

I’m leaving on a jet plane, don’t know if they’ll make it back again.

Just more proof that South Africans prefer to spend more money for less product. No doubt all of SAAs customers are driving Toyotas and VWs.

Are you enjoying your Haval?

Nissan and Hyundai… But, sorry, I hit a nerve… I hope you at least included a steering wheel as your option on your VW. Cause spanners do get uncomfortable in heavy trafic. Especially whilst sitting on a plastic makro chair.

Wow a Nissan and Hyundai! Such value wow!

yeah, company cars. hence low price and better economy.

If customers were aware how small the margins or (or how negative in some cases) wonder if they would still have the same expectations. Might be as important to judge the satisfaction with the lounge – I believe the lounges may earn Comair more money than the flights.

No.1 when it comes to theft and damage of luggage 😉

You know that is the airport’s baggage handling contractor right? You know SAA doesn’t actually touch your bags or even see them after putting on the tag right? Have you not flown before?

Of the 50 or so flights that I have done in the past 5 years, none have been on SAA.

I’m quite comfortable with that. (I didn’t want to fund the ANC)

Agreed, I don’t fly with them under any circumstance whatsoever

SAA service is decent I think, can’t say I have had a major issue in the “on the plane” service.

I have had issue with slow boarding or losing bags ect.

I have also had issues with them changing flights last minute.

The worst I had was a connecting flight, flight left JHB late and arrived in Abu Dhabi literally 5 minutes late but the code share tickets were sold the second we were listed as late and it lead to a 12 hour lay over. SAA no where to be found, no lounge access or rep in Abu Dhabi, literally left in the airport with zero support. Eventually got on a flight but lost a day. Post the issue, SAA basically said too bad.

I stopped using SAA fter that.

End of comments.





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