The World’s Best International Airlines in 2016
How does an airline stand out from the hundreds of carriers sharing the skies? By offering way more than a decent seat, good value, and free food.
Every year for our World’s Best Awards survey, Travel + Leisure asks readers to weigh in on travel experiences around the globe — to share their opinions on the top hotels, resorts, cities, islands, cruise lines, spas, airlines, and more. Readers rated international airlines on their cabin comfort, in-flight service, customer service, and overall value.
The carriers that eclipsed the competition went far beyond those basics — in fact, they seemed not only interested in reviving the golden age of air travel, but surpassing it.
“We felt like royalty on Emirates,” said T+L reader Anne Star, who especially loved the chauffeur service to and from her flight. Upscale airport lounges and an attention to detail (the female flight attendants are synchronized right down to their matching lipstick) helped the Dubai-based airline maintain its No. 2 position in the World’s Best Awards.
Qatar Airways, which held on to its title of No. 3 international airline, lets passengers choose from a constantly changing list of fine wines and has a dedicated sommelier who ensures each wine is rich and ripe enough to please the palate at cruising altitude.
And Etihad, which came in fourth, has wowed luxury travelers with its Residence, a three-room suite outfitted with a double bed, a private chef, a butler, and a living room with a 32-inch television and a leather sofa. Travelers can experience it on the world’s most expensive flight — a long haul from New York to Mumbai — which costs $76,000 round-trip.
But an airline doesn’t have to be over the top to impress travelers. In fact, this year’s World’s Best Awards survey proved that some of the best international carriers are the ones catering to everyone on board. Porter Airlines, a small carrier based in Toronto, made it into the World’s Best Awards for the first time. “The airline's lounge is open to everyone,” raved one survey respondent. “Plus, it still serves in-flight beverages in glasses, not plastic [cups].”
While Porter has limited routes, it’s gaining attention for restoring what we all thought could be gone for good: complimentary lounge access regardless of ticket class, and gratis in-flight drinks and snacks. Read on for the list.
No. 1: Singapore Airlines
Singapore has been the No. 1 carrier for the entire 21-year history of the World’s Best Awards. The airline keeps the top spot by pioneering new services and treating every passenger like a top-tier flier. For instance, Singapore recently expanded its Book the Cook service — which lets passengers select a main course from a lengthy menu prior to boarding — to Premium Economy. “[Even] for the average person, Singapore is the crème de la crème,” said a T+L reader.