World's Best Airlines
Buckling your airplane seatbelt and weight-loss personality Richard Simmons aren't things you'd necessarily think go together. But if you flew on Air New Zealand in the recent past, it's Simmons who may have video-instructed you how to buckle up.
Great companies always think outside the box, and Air New Zealand is no exception. In the most recent Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards survey, the Kiwi airline came in No. 2. And while readers didn't specifically rank in-flight entertainment, ANZ's fresh, amusing spin on the standard safety video surely gave passengers a memorable impression of the airline.
The factors our readers did vote on, across 76 global airlines: cabin comfort, in-flight service, customer service, value, and food. No one was surprised to see Singapore Airlines topping the list; it has been the No. 1 airline for the past 17 years. And Singapore Airlines must be doing something right—it didn't even have Richard Simmons entertaining its passengers.
While many of the best airlines are indeed Asian, it's remarkable that half of the airlines in the survey's top 10 rankings are from different continents. And they got to the top through more than stellar customer service. The survey's value category allows readers to voice their complaints—with a vote—about high airfares that offer little value for money. And while no one boards a plane for the sake of eating, a celebrity chef or commitment to better-than-average in-flight meals did have an impact on the results.
Cabin comfort is also key, and this is where creative carriers shine. In some cases, it's about providing power outlets at every seat. For others, like Asiana and Cathay Pacific, it's the introduction of premium economy class on transpacific flights—a gesture to passengers who dread coach seats on a 14-hour flight but can't afford a business class seat.
So in 2012, competition remains heady at the top. Find out which airlines earned the highest marks for a combination of innovation, service, and the perception that even if what they offer is fully priced, it remains good value.
No. 1 Singapore Airlines
For the 17th year in a row—ever since T+L inaugurated the World’s Best Awards—Singapore Airlines has been readers’ overall favorite. This year, the airline came out on top in every category: cabin comfort, food, in-flight service, customer service, and value. The 32-inch seat pitch in economy class helps, as do the flight attendants, famous for their above-and-beyond service and sarong and kebaya uniforms. Bedtime turndown service is even part of the flying experience for those with pockets deep enough to book the A380 first-class suites that feature sliding doors, 23-inch TVs, and stand-alone beds hand-stitched by master Italian craftsmen Poltrona Frau.
No. 2 Air New Zealand
The Kiwi carrier has been steadily climbing up the ranks of the world’s best airlines. Two years ago, Air New Zealand ranked seventh, and last year, it was fourth. Cabin comfort, food, and especially improved in-flight service vaulted it into the No. 2 position this year. T+L readers felt that the airline’s value had improved during the past year, and its innovative OneUp program, which allows you to bid for an upgrade seven days before you fly internationally, beats paying through the nose for business or first. Another popular innovation: cuddle class, an economy row of three seats that can convert to a bed.
No. 3 Emirates
Emirates has slipped slightly from No. 2, a spot it held for the past two years. While the airline maintained steady scores for cabin comfort, in-flight service, and food, readers demoted both the airline’s customer service and value scores this year. Still, there’s nothing wrong about coming in third. And forward-thinking innovations like the airline’s signature Shower Spa in first class should keep the airline up to speed with the very best.
No. 4 Korean Air
Korean Air vaulted up the list from last year’s ninth place, thanks to major improvements in readers’ perceptions of in-flight service and food, as well as cabin comfort and value. Tastier Western, Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dishes have certainly helped. But, taking a page out of Singapore Airlines’ book, it’s the improved level of service that has brought this airline into the rarefied ranking of our top five carriers.
No. 5 Cathay Pacific Airways
Cathay Pacific went up the list from seventh place last year. The airline worked hard and offered improvements in every area, according to our readers, but especially in the areas of value and food. Leave it to Hong Kong–based Cathay to be among the first to have rice cookers on board. Each seat is outfitted with power outlets and iPod and USB ports—not to mention a 32-inch seat pitch in economy class—and these special touches keep the airline highly ranked for cabin comfort.
No. 6 Asiana Airlines
Asiana is the comeback kid this year. The carrier fell to No. 13 in our 2011 rankings, but in 2010, it was No. 6. What’s the story? According to T+L readers, Asiana has upgraded its cabin comfort, in-flight service, customer service, and value. It fell a little short in its food ranking, but it was so much better in the other critical areas that it’s firmly back in our top 10. Now that Asiana, like its formidable Asian peers, offers suites, it’s clearly a contender.
No. 7 Virgin America
Virgin America remains the highest-ranking U.S. airline in our survey, despite slipping two slots in the overall rankings from last year. (It holds up even better among the survey’s domestic rankings with a No. 1 rank in every category.) The Red touch-screen system that allows you to order snacks and drinks, shop, and give back to fight cancer or to offset your carbon footprint is a prime example of how Virgin America is truly in step with the expectations of 21st-century travelers.
No. 8 Qatar Airways
Ranked No. 11 in 2011, Qatar has made a move into the top 10, although not yet back to the No. 3 ranking it earned from readers in 2010 or 2009’s No. 2 spot. Readers did give kudos to improvements in the airline’s in-flight service and to welcome changes in cabin comfort, namely the 32-inch seat pitch. Hiring celebrity chef Nobu Matsuhisa to oversee the in-flight menu is another crowd-pleaser.
No. 9 Virgin Atlantic Airways
Virgin Atlantic ranked eighth last year and could use a little maintenance in the eyes of T+L readers. The airline fell a bit short in every category this year, but most especially when it came to food, in-flight service, and value. Even cabin comfort was found to be less comforting this year compared to last. That said, the airline still made it into the survey’s top 10—and continues to make headlines for its cheeky spirit. Earlier this year, for instance, Upper Class passengers had the distinct pleasure of drinks served with ice cubes crafted to resemble Sir Richard Branson’s head.
No. 10 Thai International Airways
Ensconced at No. 10, as it was in 2011, Thai Airways pretty much maintained the status quo, according to our survey, although readers did feel that the airline offered more value than it had in the past. Thai has certainly been keeping up with other quality carriers, installing niceties like Audio Visual on Demand (AVOD). But since most of its flights are within Asia or to Europe (with North American service only to Los Angeles), it lacks the visibility of the top-dog Asian airlines. Regardless, our readers think it deserves top 10 status.
No. 11 EVA Air
After ranking 24th last year, the Taiwanese carrier got its mojo back in 2012 on all counts. There’s clearly someone else in the kitchen these days, given the improvement in the airline’s food rating, and the staff has tightened up service both in the air and on the ground. The high-tech, shape-memory cushion material on its ergonomic economy seats is bound to leave a favorable impression— explaining EVA’s good points for cabin comfort.
No. 12 All Nippon Airways (ANA)
Last year, this Japanese airline was eighth. This year, its ranking has fallen largely due to T+L readers’ perception that the cabin comfort wasn’t quite so cushy—and that the airline isn’t the best for value. ANA did maintain the status quo for its food and customer service, and with niceties such as premium economy to help you get some sleep on a long-haul flight to Asia, this carrier has a lot going for it.
No. 13 Qantas Airways
It’s getting better all the time for Qantas, which was pegged No. 17 last year. The Aussie airline got better in every category, with the biggest improvement in its perceived value. On board, Qantas offers comforts aplenty: designer Marc Newson’s Skybeds with massage settings in business class; premium economy seats with upward of 42-inch seat pitch; and on-demand entertainment in every class on A380s and many 747s.
No. 14 Japan Airlines (JAL)
JAL, which ranked 15th last year and 14th in 2010, is highly regarded and very consistent, but apparently not readers’ favorite airline flying out of Asia. They did give JAL credit for improved cabin comfort and in-flight service, though its food slipped a bit. Nor did the airline score points for value. That said, JAL just introduced its JAL Skyrecliner on certain routes in business class—rather like a La-Z-Boy of the sky—so give it credit for trying to stay ahead of the pack.
No. 15 Air Tahiti Nui
Last year, Air Tahiti Nui was No. 14, though in 2010, it had risen to No. 12. In 2012, this small carrier dipped a bit in the rankings across the board. Readers knocked the food and felt the service could have been better both on the ground and in the air. Still, with business class seats that recline 154 degrees and 31-inch seat pitch in economy, there are worse ways to cross the South Pacific.
No. 16 JetBlue Airways
Enjoying the same overall ranking as it did last year, JetBlue is again the second highest domestic airline in the survey. It held steady in all categories except for customer service, which was marginally better this year. The upbeat staff, those seats with 34-inch pitch, the first-bag-free policy, and gratis animal crackers won the hearts—and votes—of our readers.
No. 17 Swiss International Air Lines
It was ranked at 18 the past two years, and moved up a notch this year. Credit the improved in-flight service and food for the uptick. Menus are created from the various regions of the country, and vegetarian offerings are from Haus Hiltl in Zurich, the world’s oldest vegetarian restaurant. It’s that Swiss attention to detail—and possibly the chocolate handed out at the end of a meal—that keeps the airline in the T+L top 20.
No. 18 EL AL Israel Airlines
EL AL hasn’t made the top 20 since 2007, and last year it was down the list at No. 31. Better cabin comfort and greatly improved service in the air and on the ground were key factors. Readers gave EL AL’s food winning marks this time out and think the airline now offers better value. In an innovative twist, the EL AL Upgrade program enables you to submit a bid to upgrade your flight from economy class to business class.
No. 19 Finnair
Finnair dropped from 12th place last year as readers felt that there was a decline in in-flight service and customer service. Still, for an airline that ranked in the 30s for years, Finnair is now maintaining its place in the top 20 and offers a remarkable flying experience as well as cultural tie-ins like its design partnership with Marimekko.
No. 20 Lufthansa
After two years at No. 19, the German carrier is still in our top 20. Scores were little changed from last year, although Lufthansa was slightly dinged for service in the air and on the ground, as well as food. Economy class seats with 31-inch pitch keep those cabin comfort scores consistent, but value is apparently not the airline’s strong suit.