Survey ranks Air Canada as top North American airline — is it true?

Air Canada is ranked the best airline in North America, according to a 2017 survey by Skytrax. That ranking comes on the heels of another satisfaction survey that ranked the airline near the bottom.

Another recent survey scored Air Canada near the bottom for customer satisfaction

Air Canada beat out all other American and Canadian carriers in a survey asking people to nominate their favourite airline. (Air Canada)

Air Canada is ranked the best airline in North America, according to a 2017 survey by Skytrax, an international air transport rating organization.

Skytrax holds an annual World Airline Awards and this is the sixth time in eight years Air Canada has won top honours.

Skytrax surveyed 19.87 million people online. Customers were asked to nominate their favourite airline and rank their satisfaction with the airline's services including check-in, seat comfort, quality of meals and friendliness of in-cabin staff.

Anyone could fill out the survey on Skytrax's website and airlines were allowed to invite customers to complete it on a strictly volunteer basis.

The survey rates separately Air Canada's discount and leisure carrier, Air Canada Rouge, which scored poorly: 99th out of 100 airlines. 

But Air Canada's standard air service beat out all other American and Canadian airlines, according to Skytrax. Out of 100 airlines worldwide, Qatar Airways scored top spot, Air Canada ranked 29th, WestJet ranked 58th and Air Transat 70th. When it came to American carriers, Delta scored 32nd, Southwest Airlines 54th, American Airlines 74th and United 78th. 

"We are delighted to be recognized as the best airline in North America by Skytrax based on the opinions of those who know us best: our customers," said Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu in a statement.

Which survey is right?

Skytrax's findings are very different from another recent airline satisfaction survey conducted by market research firm J.D. Power. It found that Air Canada ranked near the bottom out of major North American carriers and Southwest Airlines got top ratings.

The airlines were graded on everything from prices to the check-in and boarding process, to in-flight services and other frills.

Pollster David Coletto hasn't studied the two surveys but says the outcomes of apparently similar polls can vary wildly depending on the type of methodology used — ranging from the specific type of questions asked to the order in which they're asked.

"If we relate it back to political polling, there are times in which one poll says the Liberals are ahead and another poll says the Conservatives are ahead. How can those possibly both be true?" said Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data in Ottawa.

"The answer becomes it's about methodology, it's about the assumptions the researchers make and the design of the study."

Kathryn Kelly and Neil Crone finally made it to Florida, 12 hours later than expected due to being bumped from their flight. (Neil Crone)

Air Canada customer Neil Crone was recently bumped from an overbooked Air Canada flight and spent 12 hours of his vacation at Toronto's Pearson airport. But the Port Perry, Ont., resident says he's not surprised Air Canada won top marks in North America according to the Skytrax survey.

In general, Air Canada may beat other airlines in customer satisfaction, says Crone, adding that that's not saying much. "The best of a bad lot, maybe," he says.

"The food is crappy across the board, they jam you in on pretty much any airline you're on. Flying just isn't nearly as fun as it used to be."