Last week, Skytrax named and shamed the world's worst airlines via its annual Star Ratings report. Airlines that received two stars or less were found to be below average in multiple categories and generally sucky across the board. But how bad are they really? We trawled Skytrax's customer review page to find out what actual passengers have been saying. Some of the stories we found can only be described as living nightmares...
Bad stewardess picture from Shutterstock
Skytrax's world airline star ratings report is great news for air services that come out on top — a coveted five-star rating is free advertising of the most valuable kind. But for the bottom feeders, it's a public relations nightmare.
Of the 184 airlines rated in Skytrax's 2015 report, only 23 received a star rating of 2 or lower. This signifies "poorer or inconsistent standards" for both cabin service and the home-base airport environment. They also tend to be cheaper, which explains why these airlines are still in business.
So the question Lifehacker readers need to ask themselves is: do cheap airfares make the shortcomings bearable? Or should you fork out for a higher-rated offering, even if the flight times aren't as convenient? Below are some hand-picked customer reviews of Skytrax's 23 lowest-rated airlines. It makes for some sobering reading.
Now, bear in mind that not all customer experiences will be as bad as the testimonies below. And all airlines can have a bad day. With that said, the likelihood of encountering fly-infested food, shoddy engines and excrement-filled toilets are lower when you pay more. Just sayin'.
Air Italy, Italy (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"At the check-in desks, there was such a mess and disorganisation that most passengers were going to miss their flight. I was one of them. Arriving almost 2 hours in advance, I wait my turn in one single line for all the flights (no prioritisation). Once it was finally my turn they tell me that the flight is overbooked. I paid for my seat (chosen with additional fee) more than 800 euro and they tell me it is overbooked. After more than the time needed, they finally check me in and they tell me to speed up and go to the gate. I run like crazy until I arrive at my seat. I then discover that my entertainment system was broken. Now imagine a 12 hour non-stop flight without an entertainment system. When I explained this, they told me that the flight was overbooked and didn't apologise. I could not even turn on my light (since it was connected to the system). Upon arrival, my baggage was not there. I waited 3 days to get my luggage. I will never fly again with this airline."
Air Koryo, North Korea (Skytrax rating: one star)
"Travelled on an ancient Ilyushin aircraft and whilst happy to reach my destination this is not an airline I would use again (no choice this time on my schedule to Pyongyang). This plane was not maintained well from the surface appearance in the cabin and many seat mechanisms also were broken. Food quality was well below all Asian airlines I have ever flown and think it was the cheapest meal ever sampled on a plane."
Bahamasair, Bahamas (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"Miami-Nassau. In principle everything worked out fine. B737's are very old check in took enormously long time. Very strict on weight and size of carry-on baggage. Onboard the staff gave the clear message that they would really like to be somewhere else than on that aircraft. They were totally unmotivated and not offering service. Almost all the journey they were gathered in the aft galley eating."
Biman Bangladesh, Bangladesh (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"This was the only airline going directly from Dhaka to Kathmandu. Outbound was on time but the plane was an old Fokker which should have been scrapped years ago. There was no electricity in the kitchen and we were served a cold "vegetarian burger". Going back a few days later the plane was delayed for 6 hours for no reason. Once we landed in Dhaka it was 3 am instead of 6 hours earlier at 9 pm. No explanation, no excuse, no suggestion of free airport shuttle was given. Nothing. One of the worst flight experiences."
Bulgaria Air, Bulgaria (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"I flew with them from Copenhagen to Burgas and return and were not very pleased with the flight. The first flight was delayed 40 minutes but then nothing happened I waited there for 3 hours and the only information we got was that they were doing a security check 3 hours is a long time to be in a gate with nothing to eat and no information at all. When we finally got on board the plane was very old. When we were about to land the stewardess told me to switch off my phone - which I did but then I looked behind and she was sitting on her iPhone. On the return flight we were 40 minutes delayed again with no information again and the staff was not very friendly. I would not recommend this to anyone."
China United Airlines, China (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"China United is the only airline that uses Beijing Nanyuan a former military airport in the South of Beijing. Check-in was quick easy but the check-in area is noisy and dilapidated. Toilets at the airport weren't great."
Cubana Airlines, Cuba (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"On the way to Cuba, the wait time was two hours for check-in. Baggage took an hour to arrive as well. On my return flight, I showed up 3 hours early as recommended for my 6am flight. We stood waiting until 5am when they told us the plane was delayed until 9pm. I had a flight at 8pm that night and asked for a refund. So many things went wrong with this flight but the customer service or lack of was ridiculous. I arrived to Mexico city at midnight and ended up having to purchase another ticket out of pocket for the flight I missed."
Iran Air, Iran (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"A truly sad airline and even a sadder experience if you ever get to fly on one of these planes."
Lion Air, Indonesia (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"The flight was shown as on-time but when I approached the desk and was told by staff it was delayed by 10 minutes, then told 20 minutes, an hour later we were asked to walk to another gate to a replacement plane. Once seated another passenger showed me his boarding pass that was the same seat as mine. The cabin crew tried telling me I was in the wrong seat, despite me showing my pass that she claimed was one row. I pointed out that row was already full, and I offered to move to the adjacent seat. No explanation was forthcoming for duplicate boarding passes."
Mahan Air, Iran (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"Our departure was delayed by more than one hour. No alcoholic beverages. Forget the inflight entertainment. Toilets sometimes occupied by smokers. Budget flight; you’ll get what you paid for. Tried to contact Mahan Office in Bangkok for reconfirmation of flight but any phone number given on Mahan Website or received from travel agents where unanswered."
Nepal Airlines, Nepal (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"New plane but limited legroom between seats. Cabin crew were mostly friendly but the options of meal given was Veg or Non veg which is not up to the standard of any national flag carrier, the least they could do was mention the food being served."
Onur Air, Turkey (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"I flew from Istanbul to Berlin in July 2015. The seat was very uncomfortable. Water was not free, they charge 3 Euros for a small bottle. The staff could hardly speak any English. On top of all that, both pieces of my luggage was delayed 4 days."
Pegasus Airlines, Turkey (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"What a cattle market. Awfully cramped with terrible food and drinks. Service was poor. Announcements in English were to be guessed at as you could not understand the garbled messages."
Rossiya Airlines, Russia (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"Meal service is the worst in the air (inedible sandwich plus cup of tea/coffee that are better not to taste). Bring your own food and drink from the airport. Their aircraft are second hand A319 with median age about 20 years or same aged B767-300 where seat configuration is 2-4-2. Toilets are old type (non-vacuum) so some terrible smells have accumulated within their lifetime. Legroom is non-existent on every plane type so I always try to get seat in emergency row. Seat comfort is the worst part of travel with them. Unbearable and painful if you're on a long flight. The crews are old soviet style."
Ryanair, Ireland (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"Ryanair has a policy of printing your boarding pass prior to your flight which obviously includes web check-in. If you fail to do so, the airline charges an absurd amount of 45eur per person. While it does mention to web check-in on your ticket, first time goers are bound to face problems. The staff gave us a deaf ear on us when we kept saying our web check-in kept failing a night prior inspite of repeated attempts."
SmartWings, Czech Republic (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"Flight was on time, but that was the first and last good thing about it. Flight staff was rude, there is almost no service, you get 1 glass of water or cheap soda and one distasteful sandwich, seats were not comfortable and plane looked old. Overall the experience was terrible. I know that they fly to Dubai, Cancun, etc but I can't imagine a longer flight with them. Those 2 hours to Turkey are possible to survive, but not more."
Spirit Airlines, USA (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"I have traveled a lot in my life but never had to deal with such a situation. You think Spirit is cheap? You are wrong, it is not. Fees are a lot more expensive at the gate. August 24, 2015 had to fly from Boston to Dallas. Shortly after everyone was on board, the plane hit something on the ground and it had to be fixed. We were told there was a 50/50 chance to leave that day. At 6pm we were officially told that flight was cancelled and all the 140 passengers rushed to a lower level to reschedule flight. There were two people assisting with the crowd and every person took about 20 minutes. The company did not offer any vouchers, hotel or even water! I had to find a room in Boston and pay for a cab. Spirit has no Spirit at all."
Sudan Airways, Sudan (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"Business class on their A300 from Doha and really glad to get off this flight. Aircraft very scruffy inside and needed some real attention and cleaning. Seats were broken in many areas and toilets were unusabe - FAs did not seem bothered by any of this. Service was all over in a short time and FAs then disappeared to galley. Not an airline I would wish on my worst enemy and despite all they say in their magazine about change this airline seems to be a lot worse than when I last flew them (that was in 1991 though!). Avoid at all costs."
Syrianair, Syria (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"Rather a traumatic experience! The aircraft was an ancient 747; with business class (they call it First) upstairs. First shock - nowhere to store your hand luggage. So the bags just sit on the floor around you - able to hurtle towards passengers as soon as there is any turbulence. Late take off with absolutely no explanation - apparently this is a frequent occurrence. The meal service was OK but not very sophisticated. Seats were well past their sell-by dates. Reasonable recline but nothing like a flat bed. No in-flight entertainment. And I mean none - not even a big screen movie. No reading material either. So if you have to go to Damascus and want some cheap leg room it's fine but don't expect any bells and whistles."
Tajik Air, Tajikistan (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"Dushanbe to Khujand return and can honestly say it was the most terrifying experience of my life. The check-in was fine we were the last on and despite the seats at the front being available and reserved for us they had three bolts holding two seats to the floor and only half of one seatbelt! The Tupolev took an age to take off then sat at not much altitude as the poor little engines screamed in protest. It took forever going around and around to gain the altitude needed to get over the mountains and on landing we were greeted to the sight of what appeared to be burned out wrecks of other aircraft — I was contemplating walking back to Dushanbe! Never again but what an incredible experience."
Turkmenistan Airlines, Turkmenistan (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"We will never be flying with this airline again. On the way to Amritsar on the 31st July the crew on the flight were so miserable and safety was of no interest. Although we made it clear I couldn't eat meat when I booked the ticket, they ran out of vegetarian food when it got to me. They just dumped whatever on my tray. They never seem approachable and quite frankly they come across very annoyed if you call for them. The flight back was supposed to leave Ashgabat at 1:30pm but didn't leave until 6:30pm. I get that all flights can get delayed but it's the way the issue was dealt with. First of all we were not told that there was a delay and when passengers started questioning they just struggled their shoulders like they couldn't understand English. There were Turkmenistan Airlines staff in the background looking at us and laughing amongst each other. Very offended."
Ukraine Int'l Airlines, Ukraine (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"I am 5'5" and average weight and I was uncomfortable with how small and narrow the space throughout the entire plane is. Not only are the seats narrow and too close with one another but even the hallways are just too small. I can only imagine what heavier and taller people must feel like on these planes. It was a 12 hour flight and the section where I was seated was extremely hot and humid me and other passengers had our backs wet from sweat. In addition there was no room left for my carry on luggage a flight attendant took it and said it would be sent straight to my destination. When I arrived to my final destination my carry on luggage had never arrived I had to file a complaint and claim my bag days later. For the entertainment I couldn't even enjoy the movies they played because the speakers of my seat were not working."
Yemenia, Yemen (Skytrax rating: two stars)
"The return tickets London to Bangladesh were cheap so I chose to try them out. Both the economy and First class seats are shabby. In flight entertainment was abysmal with the same film shown on both outward and inward flights. There is no personal in-flight entertainment system everyone shares the same overhead screen. Sana'a airport transit lounge lets the airline down. There were over 200 people in the lounge with only three filthy cubicles for men and none of them had a working flush or toilet paper and all of them were overflowing with excrement (I have photos). Sanaa to Bangladesh flight was full. There are no snacks even if you ask. The aircraft was infested with flies and it was hard to eat. The stewardess explained that the flies were around because of the dates in Yemen. We requested she spray insecticide and she said she would try but it never happened."
Have you ever flown with any of the above airlines? How did you experience compare? Let us know in the comments!