The Impending Transition

In this Article

The Impending Transition

from five star to world class




In this Article

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There is no doubt that many airlines have been experiencing a sense of suspension these past 12 months, caught somewhere between a dream of new possibilities and a nightmare of present reality.

Some have moved on from this freeze frame to focus on cost reduction, digitalization of the customer experience, automation, and restructuring their organizations in previously unimagined ways.

Come the second half of this year, airlines will be back to chasing customers again.

Most will be anxious to showcase their updated experiences, tailored to the current situation, while at the same time reassuring customers that the immaculate service and personal attention for which they are renowned is still in place.

But will that be sufficient to attract travelers back?

The returning customer’s expectations of airlines will be more informed by their recent experiences – more expansive, more diverse – acknowledging the new influences shaping life today and for many years to come.

We are about to witness an era of disruption to the luxury, five-star hospitality model. All the traditional five-star razzle dazzle may not remain relevant to customers.

Yes, they will still want comfort, they will still want attention and they will still want the best space their money can buy. But comfort, attention and room to move will no longer be enough to make five-star airlines world class.

Data on its own will not improve patient experience, there has to actionable information available and there needs to be a commitment to take action (Ahmed, Burt & Roland, 2014).

In fact, Coulter et al (2014) raised concern that despite the NHS implementing a thorough programme of PX measurement in 2013, there was no system in place to ensure the data improved performance.  This concern was confirmed in a study of all 153 NHS trusts which showed the results of the NHS patient satisfaction studies in various constructs did not lead to improvements in performance (Locock et al, 2020).  Below is the summary of patient experience dimensions included in different studies.  

Dimensions used in PX across studies are presented in the table below:

The standard ‘customer satisfaction (CX)  measurement systems’ in healthcare or to be precise  - ‘patient experience (PX) measurements’ do not provide actionable feedback on what or how things need to be improved, which has been highlighted as most desirable by healthcare facility managers(Barry et al, 2015; Coulter et al 2014). PX measures also do not provide the much-needed ability to benchmark against other health care providers (Barry et al, 2016). Patients are not experts on health care service delivery (Ahmed et al, 2014; Barry et al, 2016), many have different expectations, which biases the results (Ahmet et al 2014)and most will have few comparison points to make a judgement on patient experiences.

Customer Experience (CX)/Patient Experience (PX) measures also assume that measuring customer attitudes of service provision is a valid measure of the service provision on offer(rather than actually measuring the service provision) (Sharp, Page &Dawes, 2000).

Objective measures of service quality by industry professionals are rare in practice, with the exception of mystery shopping, which is considered a marketing research-based variant of participant observation (Sharp, Page & Dawes, 2000). Across industries, mystery shopping has been demonstrated to be reliable and valid as a measure of customer experience(Dawes, Sharp & Adelaide, 2000) and the dimensions that emerge from mystery shopping generally resemble SERVQUAL dimensions. More specifically, simulated patient studies, known as ‘pseudo-patients’ (Lazarus, 2009) have demonstrated robustness over other patient satisfaction measures that include reduced recall bias, social desirability bias and elimination of bias from demographic factors (Campbell et al, 2013; Goodrich & Lazenby, 2022) and should be part of a health facility’s PX improvement programme (Lazarus, 2009).  

Mystery shopping more broadly has been used extensively in health care scenarios (Jacob et al, 2018) and has been demonstrated in one clinical setting to increase net margins by over 14 percent within 18 months of implementation (O’Neill et al, 2012) and in others, it contributed to significant improvements in PX, along with improvements in employee satisfaction and engagement (Garantino et al, 2013; Daouk-Öyry, 2018).

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The new world class airline experience

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But what qualities of an airline or independent lounge are important to guests? The research on important dimensions used in assessing lounge quality across key industry and academic studies are presented in the table below:

Has to acknowledge changed customer priorities in relation to safety, health, well-being, sustainability, service appropriateness, design integrity and empathy.

For airlines, the new focus on safety manifests itself in numerous thought-provoking ways.

Customers being thrust into close proximity of others is now anxiety-inducing. Not having to linger in the aisle while waiting for the bathroom becomes a new imperative. Being tightly packed into the jet bridge will remain something to be avoided.

How an airline manages these changed safety expectations and other less visible concerns is what will elevate them from five star to world class. Customers are anxious about their journeys and the standards the airline sets for their travel which is why in-cabin design has become more important. Well-designed environments convey a sense of care and attention to detail that make customers more comfortable.

Central to the concept of world class is an airline’s ability to demonstrate empathy and compassion – listening to what customers want and responding with relevant and meaningful communication, which is embraced by every employee. One key customer concern that has emerged as a result of recent experiences is the importance of sustainability – being able to provide what we need without waste.

This is an issue airlines face every day whether in relation to air or water quality, landfill overflow, incineration of uneaten, onboard food that causes harm to communities living near incinerators or sending disposable plastic cups and dishes to landfill.

Some four billion single-use plastic cups are produced annually for airline economy passengers. As yet, the aviation industry has no universal, end-of-life solution other than sending these plastics to landfill or incineration.

To take this further and to learn how the lounge audit is processed.

¹ Cholkongka, N. (2019). Identification of service quality competency framework for the lounge attendants: a case of a privately-owned airline in Thailand. ABAC Journal 39(4) , 123-150.

² Nghiêm-Phú, B. (2017). An analysis of airline/airport lounge service using data gathered from Asia Pacfic Journal of Advanced Business and Social Studies, 4(1), 127-134

³ YATES+ have taken the decision to include sustainability and keeping guests safe as these are notable in the strategic plan of many airline, airport and lounge operators and have received a lot of attention in the wider media. A number of studies highlight the importance of cleanliness of lounges and lavatories which is an important part of the perception of “keeping me safe”.  The following studies also support the addition of “sustainability” as important in lounge and airport experiences:
• Abdel-Gayed, A. H., Hassan, T. H., Abdou, A. H., Abdelmoaty, M. A., Saleh, M. I., & Salem, A. E. (2023). Travelers’ Subjective Well-Being as an Environmental Practice: Do Airport Buildings’ Eco-Design, Brand Engagement, and Brand Experience Matter?. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 20(2), 938.
• Han, H., Lho, L. H., & Kim, H. C. (2019). Airport green environment and its influence on visitors’ psychological health and behaviors. Sustainability, 11(24), 7018

⁴ Cholkongka, N. (2019). Identification of service quality competency framework for the lounge attendants: a case of a privately-owned airline in Thailand. ABAC Journal, 39(4), 123-150.

⁵ Chua, B. L., Lee, S., Kim, H. C., & Han, H. (2017). Investigating the key drivers of traveler loyalty in the airport lounge setting. Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research, 22(6), 651-665.

⁶ Curkan, S. C., & Özkan, E. (2021). The effect of airline lounge services on the selection of airline. Journal of multidisciplinary academic tourism, 6(1), 17-26.

⁷ Han, S., Ham, S. S., Yang, I., & Baek, S. (2012). Passengers’ perceptions of airline lounges: Importance of attributes that determine usage and service quality measurement. Tourism Management, 33(5), 1103-1111.

⁸ Aditya Julio, S. E. Proposed service quality improvement using servqual method and importance performance analysis (ipa) of sultan executive lounge in sm badaruddin ii airport. Second International Conference on Theory and Practice (ICTP-2016), 28th and 29th, October, Melbourne, Australia
ISBN: 9780 9943 65613

⁹ Kim, Y. J., Ban, H. J., Kim, D. H., & Kim, H. S. (2020). Understanding customer experience of airline lounge using text mining of online review. Culinary Science & Hospitality Research, 26(2), 36-44.

¹⁰ Farris, P.W., Bendle, N., Pfeifer, P.E. & Reibstein, D.  (2010).  Marketing Metrics: The Definitive Guide to Measuring Marketing Performance.  Pearson: London

¹¹ Sharp, B., Page, N. and Dawes, J., 2000. A new approach to customer satisfaction, service quality and relationship quality research. Australian & NZ Marketing Academy Conference Proceedings, Griffith University.

¹²  See:
• Fisher, N. I., & Kordupleski, R. E. (2019). Good and bad market research: A critical review of Net Promoter Score. Applied Stochastic Models in Business and Industry, 35(1), 138-151.
• Keiningham, T. L., Cooil, B., Andreassen, T. W., & Aksoy, L. (2007). A longitudinal examination of net promoter and firm revenue growth. Journal of Marketing, 71(3), 39-51.);
• Kristensen, K., & Eskildsen, J. (2014). Is the NPS a trustworthy performance measure?. The TQM Journal, 26(2), 202-214.
• Mecredy, P., Wright, M. J., & Feetham, P. (2018). Are promoters valuable customers? An application of the net promoter scale to predict future customer spend. Australasian Marketing Journal, 26(1), 3-9.
• Romaniuk, J., Nguyen, C., & East, R. (2011). The accuracy of self-reported probabilities of giving recommendations. International Journal of Market Research, 53(4), 507-521.
• Pingitore, G., Morgan, N. A., Rego, L. L., Gigliotti, A., & Meyers, J. (2007). The Single-Question Trap. Marketing Research, 19(2).
• Sharp, B. (2006), “Net promoter score fails the test”, Marketing Research, Vol. 20No. 4, pp. 28-30.
Also see [] to see that according to this source Airlines such as Aeroflot, United Airlines and Thomas Cook score significantly higher than award winning airlines such as Singapore Airlines. Not surprisingly, this leads to industry experts to questioning the validity of the NPS.

¹³  Sharp, B., Page, N. and Dawes, J., 2000. A new approach to customer satisfaction, service quality and relationship quality research. Australian & NZ Marketing Academy Conference Proceedings, Griffith University.

¹⁴  Dawes, J., Sharp, B., & Adelaide, N. T. (2000). The reliability and validity of objective measures of customer service: Mystery Shopping. Australian Journal of Market Research, 8(1), 29-46.

¹⁵ Lowndes, M., & Dawes, J. (2001). Do distinct SERVQUAL dimensions emerge from mystery shopping data? A test of convergent validity. Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 16(2), 41-53.

¹⁶  Halvorsrud, R., Kvale, K., & Følstad, A. (2016). Improving service quality through customer journey analysis. Journal of service theory and practice, 26(6), 840-867.

World class airlines engage in sustainability initiatives and demonstrate a circular mindset in their pursuit of end-of-life solutions for non-rotables.

As travelers become better informed about issues of sustainability, new expectations are created around Food and Beverage – reduction in waste by the avoidance of packaged and overly processed food in favor of something more authentic.

Food waste is a major issue for all airlines, not only as a cost, but also as an environmental issue. IATA reports that it is possible for up to 20% of food loaded on long-haul aircraft to end up as waste at the end of the flight.

Committing unconsumed food and plastic to landfill or incineration is not a world-class solution.

These are elements that define a more environmentally aware approach to onboard cuisine.

The world class airline today cares about the world and reaches out to customers by demonstrating empathy and engagement with their new expectations of the travel experience.


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2023). [available:]. Accessed 19th February 2024.

Ahmed, F., Burt, J., & Roland, M. (2014). Measuring patient experience: concepts and methods. The Patient-Patient-Centered Outcomes Research, 7, 235-241.

Barry, H. E., Campbell, J. L., Asprey, A., & Richards, S. H. (2016). The use of patient experience survey data by out-of-hours primary care services: a qualitative interview study. BMJ Quality & Safety, 25(11), 851-859.

Campbell, J. L., Carter, M., Davey, A., Roberts, M. J., Elliott, M. N., & Roland, M. (2013). Accessing primary care: a simulated patient study. British Journal of General Practice, 63(608), e171-e176.

Coulter, A., Fitzpatrick, R., & Cornwell, J. (2009). Measures of patients' experience in hospital: purpose, methods and uses (pp. 7-9). London: King's Fund.

Coulter, A., Locock, L., Ziebland, S., & Calabrese, J. (2014). Collecting data on patient experience is not enough: they must be used to improve care. BMJ, 348.

Dawes, J., Sharp, B., & Adelaide, N. T. (2000). The reliability and validity of objective measures of customer service: Mystery shopping. Australian Journal of Market Research, 8(1), 29-46.

Daouk-Öyry, L., Alameddine, M., Hassan, N., Laham, L. & Soubra, M. (2018). The catalytic role of Mystery Patient tools in shaping patient experience: A method to facilitate value co-creation using action research. PLoS ONE, 13(10): 1-17 e0205262.

Granatino, R., Verkamp, J., & Stephen Parker, R. (2013). The use of secret shopping as a method of increasing engagement in the healthcare industry: A case study. International Journal of Healthcare Management, 6(2), 114-121.

Goodrich, G. W., & Lazenby, J. M. (2023). Elements of patient satisfaction: An integrative review. Nursing Open, 10(3), 1258-1269.

Jacob, S., Schiffino, N., & Biard, B. (2018). The mystery shopper: a tool to measure public service delivery?. International Review of Administrative Sciences, 84(1), 164-184.

Jenkinson, C., Coulter, A., Bruster, S., Richards, N., & Chandola, T. (2002). Patients’ experiences and satisfaction with health care: results of a questionnaire study of specific aspects of care. Quality and safety in health care, 11(4), 335-339.

Johansson, P., Oleni, M., & Fridlund, B. (2002). Patient satisfaction with nursing care in the context of health care: a literature study. Scandinavian journal of caring sciences, 16(4), 337-344.

LaVela, S. L., & Gallan, A. (2014). Evaluation and measurement of patient experience. Patient Experience Journal, 1(1), 28-36.

Lazarus, A. (2009). Improving psychiatric services through mystery shopping. Psychiatric services, 60 7, 972-3 .

Lee, W. I., & Lin, C. H. (2011). Consumer hierarchical value map modeling in the healthcare service industry. African Journal of Business Management, 5(3), 722.

Locock, L., Graham, C., King, J., Parkin, S., Chisholm, A., Montgomery, C., ... & Ziebland, S. (2020). Understanding how front-line staff use patient experience data for service improvement: an exploratory case study evaluation. Health Services and Delivery Research, 8(13).

Lowndes, M., & Dawes, J. (2001). Do distinct SERVQUAL dimensions emerge from mystery shopping data? A test of convergent validity. Canadian Journal of Program Evaluation, 16(2), 41-53.

O'Neill, S., Calderon, S., Casella, J., Wood, E., Carvelli-Sheehan, J., & Zeidel, M. L. (2012). Improving outpatient access and patient experiences in academic ambulatory care. Academic Medicine, 87(2), 194-199.

Sharp, B., Page, N. and Dawes, J., 2000. A new approach to customer satisfaction, service quality and relationship quality research. Australian & NZ Marketing Academy Conference Proceedings, Griffith University.

Keith Yates

Keith is a leading voice in experience design.

For more than thirty years he has been widely recognised for disruption and innovation in guest experience and hospitality.

He has transformed the end to end experience of recognized airlines and five star hotels globally.

Keith is best known as the ‘architect of five-star experience’.