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Sunday, May 4, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Air Travel -- Trans-Pacific Carriers Tops In Airline Poll

Seattle Times News Services: Seattle Times Travel Staff

Americans literally have a long way to go if they want to experience the best airline service, according to a review of 61 air carriers in the 1997 Zagat Airline Survey.

Of the 10 world airlines ranked highest by the Zagat travel-guide series, seven are specialists in Asian or Pacific Rim routes. Singapore Airlines earned its fourth consecutive top ranking, with an average score of 26.84 on a 30-point scale rating comfort, service, timeliness and food.

Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific was second with a 25.07 rating, displacing Swissair (24.92).

Midwest Express, the highest-rated U.S. airline (24.47), was fourth overall. Next among U.S. carriers were Alaska and American, rated 21.18 and 17.38, respectively; then United (17.13) and Delta (16.97).

The new Zagat findings are based on ratings from more than 10,000 frequent fliers, including 1,400 travel-industry professionals.

The imperative to stave off cabin fever on long flights means that the trans-Pacific carriers "almost have to be the best," says Tim Zagat, co-publisher of the travel-guide series.

Most European airlines also performed well, drawing praise for punctuality; for good if sometimes "cool" service; and, in Air France's case, for food.

Among U.S. carriers, Midwest Express won raves for "first-class seating, service and food at "coach prices." Alaska was noted for "people-oriented service" that "could teach the big boys something."

American, United and Delta all drew rueful comments about "penny pinching cutbacks" in food, on-board services and space.

At the bottom was Russia's Aeroflot, with "equipment older than Methuselah." In second-last place was the U.S. budget carrier Valujet, labeled "cattle cars of the sky."

The average food rating for the airlines - 15.69 - lagged well behind average ratings for comfort (17.91), service (18.86) and timeliness (18.41).

Here's Zagat's 1997 list of overall airline ratings, on the following scale: 26-30 Extraordinary; 20-25 Very Good to Excellent; 16-19 Good to Very Good; 10-15 Fair to Good; 9 Poor to Fair. (U.S. airlines in bold.)

AIRLINE Rating . 1. Singapore 26.84 . 2. Cathay Pacific 25.07 . 3. Swissair 24.92 . 4. Midwest Express 24.47 . 5. Japan 24.20 . 6. Thai 23.83 . 7. ANA (All Nippon) 23.74 . 8. Qantas 23.59 . 9. Air New Zealand 23.28 . 10. SAS 23.10 . 11. Virgin Atlantic 22.97 . 12. Asiana (S. Korea) 22.26 . 13. Lufthansa 22.26 . 14. Finnair 22.23 . 15. KLM 22.05 . 16. British Airways 21.94 . 17. South African 21.61 . 18. Air France 21.20 . 19. Alaska 21.18 . 20. Austrian 20.87 . 21. Ansett of Australia 20.07 . 22. Aer Lingus 19.96 . 23. Korean Air 19.23 . 24. Varig 19.19 . 25. Air Canada 18.87 . 26. Sabena 18.15 . 27. Icelandair 17.56 . 28. American 17.38 . 29. Philippine Airlines 17.28 . 30. El Al 17.23 . 31. United 17.13 . 32. Delta 16.97 . 33. TAP Air Portugal 16.84 . 34. Alitalia 16.66 . 35. Kiwi International 16.55 . 36. Avianca Airlines/JAL 16.37 . 37. Midway 16.27 . 38. Reno Air 16.27 . 39. Northwest 15.75 . 40. Turkish 15.74 . 41. Aloha 15.74 . 42. Royal Jordanian 15.56 . 43. America West 15.52 . 44. Southwest 15.48 . 45. Iberia 15.46 . 46. Hawaiian 15.37 . 47. Garuda (Indonesia) 14.96 . 48. TWA 14.84 . 49. Continental 14.42 . 50. Mexicana 14.30 . 51. BWIA Airlines 14.13 . 52. US Airways 13.92 . 53. Aeromexico 13.72 . 54. Aero California 12.99 . 55. Carnival 12.55 . 56. Olympic (Greece) 12.17 . 57. Air India 12.16 . 58. China Airlines 11.87 . 59. Tower Air 10.64 . 60. Valujet 9.64 . 61. Aeroflot 5.10 .

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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