Forget inflight food – these are the best and worst airlines for when flying goes wrong –

But they’re missing a crucial element, according to passenger rights firm AirHelp – How airlines deal with customers when problems arise.

“We believe that an airline should be judged not only by how it treats its passengers during normal business operations, but also by the consideration it shows its customers when something goes wrong,” the report said.

To create its annual AirHelp Score, the organization evaluated 83 airlines based on their punctuality, customer reviews and efficiency in processing customer compensation claims.

“Every factor was given equal weight during the evaluation,” said Tomasz Pawliszyn, CEO of AirHelp.

Based on data from January 1 to September 30, 2023, these are the airlines that topped the 2023 AirHelp Score:

1. Qatar Airways – 8.38

2. Eurowings – 8.27

3. LOT Polish Airlines – 8.11

4. Etihad Airways and All Nippon Airways – 8.09 (tie)

6. Austrian Airlines – 8.07

7. American Airlines – 7.97

8. China Airlines – 7.92

9. Wideroe – 7.89

10. United Airlines – 7.88

Qatar Airways has topped every AirHelp Score ranking since 2015 – except one. In 2016, the Doha-based airline fell to second place behind Singapore Airlines.

Thiago Prudencio | Sopa pictures | Light rocket | Getty Images

The 10 lowest-rated airlines on AirHelp’s 2023 list are:

1. Tunisair – 4.12

2. British Airways – 5.03

3. Frontier Airlines and Pegasus Airlines – 5.18 (tie)

5. Czech Airlines – 5.20

6. Air Canada – 5.68

7. Spirit – 5.69

8. TAROM and Azores Airlines – 5.71 (draw)

10. Air Austral – 5.77

Qatar Airways has topped every AirHelp Score ranking since 2015 – except one. In 2016, the Doha-based airline fell to second place behind Singapore Airlines. In 2022, it tied for first place with Etihad Airways, Pawliszyn told CNBC Travel.

The full 2023 list can be found on the AirHelp website.

The five airlines that performed best in compensation claims processing alone – which assesses how airlines process claims (“Do they ignore claims or do they unfairly deny them?”) as well as response and payout times, are:

  • China Airlines and Brussels Airlines – 8.2 (tie)
  • United Airlines, SAS Scandinavian Airlines and airBaltic – 8.1 (tie)

Stranded passengers crowd an airline counter at Changshui International Airport in Kunming, China, January 4, 2013.

Str | Afp | Getty Images

The worst performers when it comes to claims settlement are:

  • British Airways – 1
  • Gulf Air – 1.4
  • Czech Airlines, Aircalin and Vietnam Airlines – 1.7 (tie)

British Airways may have finished last due to staff shortages, Pawliszyn said.

“As one of the largest and most popular airlines, they probably handle a large volume of claims,” he said.

In response to CNBC Travel’s request for comment, British Airways said: “We are working hard to improve our response times… We have hired an additional 1,500 new colleagues to help and introduced new automated technology to resolve simpler claims more quickly .” The vast majority of cases were resolved within seven weeks.

The airline added that more than half of the outstanding cases concern EU compensation claims, which take time due to the checks to be carried out.

Top airlines in other categories

Highest punctuality values: Eurowings and Oman Air

Highest customer ratings: All Nippon Airways, Garuda Indonesia and Emirates

Singapore Airlines, which tops most major airlines’ rankings, came in at No. 26 on the list, dragged down by a claims handling score of 5.4. Another highly regarded airline, Emirates, ranked 24th on the list for the same reason.

AirHelp told CNBC that it uses its own data to monitor how well airlines process customer claims for compensation.

The organization “helps passengers claim compensation after delayed or canceled flights under several international air passenger rights laws, including EC 261 in Europe and ANAC 400 in Brazil,” he said.

“Examples where a passenger may make a claim include flights on a European airline where the passenger arrived at their destination more than three hours late, or a flight that was canceled by the airline less than two weeks before departure. “

He said claims processing is critical as it directly impacts passenger satisfaction and an airline’s overall operational efficiency.

“Quick resolution to claims such as lost baggage, flight disruptions or other inconveniences could deter passengers from choosing another airline for their future travel plans,” Pawliszyn said. “It is critical to maintaining a positive reputation and customer loyalty.”