Qatar Airways Wins Top Spot for Service, Unseating Emirates

  • Al Baker dedicates award to country beset by ‘big bullies’
  • Lufthansa gains in rankings -- but no five-star status yet

Qatar Airways CEO Calls Saudi Flight Ban a 'Distraction'

Qatar, the Arab state hurt by a Saudi-led campaign to isolate it over ties to Iran, can take solace in the fact that it’s state-owned airline is once again the world’s top-ranked carrier.

Qatar Airways reclaimed the No. 1 spot in this year’s Skytrax awards, a coveted list of the leading 100 airlines announced on the second day of the Paris Air Show. Qatar unseated Emirates, the largest long-haul airline, which slipped to second. The rankings are based on an annual passenger survey.

Akbar al Baker, Doha-based Qatar Air’s chief executive officer, used the platform to make an impromptu speech in which he condemned the blockade of Qatar, which he had previously likened to the Soviet siege of West Berlin after World War II.

“This award is not for me or my airline but for my country,” Al Baker said after being handed the microphone at the ceremony’s climax. He added that Qatar is beset by “big bullies.”

Tensions between Qatar, one of the world’s richest countries and the biggest producer of liquefied natural gas, and its neighbors are escalating after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut diplomatic relations and closed transport routes three weeks ago. Qatar Air has closed 52 routes, with remaining services forced into diversions ranging from five minutes to two hours to avoid closed airspace.

Mixed Fortunes

Deutsche Lufthansa AG managed to improve its ranking by three slots to the seventh position, making it the only European carrier in the Top 10 and the only airline not from Asia or the Persian Gulf. At the same time it failed to secure a five-star ranking, something it has been targeting since 2015, though CEO Carsten Spohr pledged to get there soon. Only nine airline hold the status, seven from Asia and two from the Middle East.

There are no U.S. companies featured in the Top 20 of the survey’s rankings, which cover more than 325 airlines and are a powerful marketing tool to attract more high-spending business or leisure travelers. Turkish Airlines tumbled out of the Top 10 list, having been placed 7th last year.

Skytrax also hands out awards for various sub-categories, which include best cabin staff, best in-flight entertainment or best low-cost airline. The prize for best first-class cabin went to Qatar rival Etihad Airways PJSC, which has decked out its A380 superjumbos with private suites that feature Savoy-hotel trained butlers on standby.

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