AirlineRatings editors have selected their 10 favourite airlines. The one common theme with all these airlines is that they have made a significant difference in air travel.
In alphabetical order they are:
Air New Zealand
Over the past 20 years, since it reverted to majority government-owned, Air New Zealand has become a byword in innovation.
The mantra of its CEO Sir Ralph Norris who took control in 2002, is: “We don’t care about the shareholders, we care about our staff who care about our passengers and they look after our shareholders.”
That philosophy has been built on over the years and combined with non-stop cabin innovation such as the Economy Skycouch (above), which has showered the airline with international awards, including many Airline of The Year gongs from Air Transport World, Conde Nast and Airlineratings.com as well as Best Airline in the South Pacific from APEX (below).
This year the airline announced yet another cabin makeover for its 787s to create what will be the most luxurious cabin in the sky from late 2024.
All Nippon Airways
All Nippon Airways has evolved into a real industry trendsetter. It was the launch airline for Boeing’s 787 and is the biggest operator of the plane.
All Nippon Airways has been at the forefront for years in cabin innovation. The airline was also one of the first to introduce Premium Economy Class and even the airline’s Economy Class has a generous seat pitch of 86cm (34 inches) which is 5cm more than most airlines.
ANA’s inflight service offering is outstanding with a focus on perfection. Flying with this airline is really special.
Cathay Pacific Airways
Although COVID restrictions have forced the airline to be a late re-starter, nothing can detract from the fact that it is one of the world’s really great airlines. Heavily focused on business travellers, the airline has a superb network and connectivity that is now returning.
Cathay Pacific, prior to COVID, had the perfect combination of product, network and flight frequencies and the network will be fully restored by late 2023. The airline’s fleet is built around two standout aircraft the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 777-300ER with the 777X to follow in 2026.
Like Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines, Emirates has demanded the best innovation from aircraft manufacturers and their suppliers. The airline has the world’s largest fleet of A380s and is one of the few to truly exploit its spaciousness with a premium bar and lounge.
Emirates was one of the first to introduce seat-back videos for all passengers and that commitment has led it to become a leader in the industry with its ICE system. Now the airline is rolling out a radical premium economy product across its A380 and 777 fleets. This is part of a US$2 billion spend on cabin products, food and service improvements.
While many airlines are focused on the environment Etihad Airways is leading the way with a host of innovations across the airline. This year the airline was awarded the AirlineRatings.com Environmental Airline of the Year for 2022 because of its Greenliner Boeing 787 and its Sustainability50, A350 aircraft.
The mantra at Etihad Airways is: A million things count in reducing emissions and thus the focus is all-consuming.
The airline’s Sustainability Report 2020-2021 demonstrates the potential advancements to be made in sustainable aviation by a wide range of initiatives coordinated to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in emissions intensity in its passenger fleet by 2025, cut 2019 net emissions by 50 per cent by 2035, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
The airline has launched the world’s most comprehensive industry-wide testing and innovation program to cut emissions and what is very exciting is that Etihad Airways is not only pushing the technological boundaries and supporting small innovative companies which are pioneering environmental breakthroughs but it is then sharing the knowledge gained across the industry.
The US-based low-cost/high-value airline has been a revolution for air travellers delivering a better product than most legacy airlines but at a budget price. Now it’s turning narrow-body jets into luxury aircraft with Airbus’s new airspace interiors.
Features of the new cabins include customizable hero lighting aimed at reducing jet lag, slimmer sidewall panels for extra personal space at shoulder level and improved views through the windows thanks to redesigned bezels and completely integrated window shades.
There is also the latest full LED lighting technologies; the largest overhead bin in class; and new lavatories with hygienic touchless features and antimicrobial surfaces.
JetBlue has installed 24-fully-flat seats in its Mint premium private suites while the aircraft’s 114 economy passengers get 18.4-inch-wide seats with a full 32-inch seat pitch and contoured seat-backs for extra knee space. The airline also offers four rows of “Even More Space” seating with five additional inches of legroom.
Qantas is a byword for safety having never lost a passenger in the jet era. The airline is the world’s most experienced claim tested by the UK Advertising Standards Association in 2008 citing a document produced by the author demonstrating the airline could lay claim to 24 industry firsts or seconds since 1945.
Recently a senior captain employed by aviation’s governing body, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, as a flight safety auditor of airlines said this of Qantas pilots: “Qantas has the most capable, knowledgeable, disciplined and finest pilots I have ever seen.”
That is not to say that Qantas has not had serious incidents such as QF72 and QF32 but it was the skill of the pilots that saved the aircraft according to the accident reports.
Perfection is a byword at Qatar Airways and that focus has led to spectacular growth for the Doha-based airline. At every touch point, the airline seeks to be the best and it shows. This focus has resulted in the airline winning numerous industry awards including Airline of the Year.
It has also been the launch customer for the Airbus A350 and amongst the first to get the Boeing 787. The airline’s demanding specifications have resulted in improvements in the A350 and 787.
During the pandemic, Qatar Airways was one of the few airlines that continued to fly and it repatriated over 300,000 passengers. At one stage it was the world’s biggest international airline because of this commitment. It also flew many humanitarian missions as well as keeping vital cargo links open.
Singapore Airlines has long been a gold standard for airlines and a leader in innovation both in the cabin and in new aircraft. Almost every ten years the airline reinvents itself and in doing so reinvents travel.
In the process, its choices in aircraft make and break airframe manufacturers as its evaluation process is one of the industry’s most demanding. Its demand for Singapore to London non-stop launched the Boeing 747-400, while its rejection of the Airbus A340 in 1999 in favour of more Boeing 777s was a mortal blow to Airbus.
The airline was the first to introduce the A380, and among the first major buyers of the 787 and A350 and it has also ordered 777X.
In the cabin, SIA has led the airline industry for years with such innovations as free drinks and headsets back in the late 1960s, satellite phones in 1991 and audio/video on demand in 2001.
Virgin Australia / Virgin Atlantic
These two airlines have a common link in their founder Sir Richard Branson whose passion and staff commitment have resulted in the two airlines having multi-award-winning staff.
At every touch point, the Virgin charm comes through. The staff’s focus on the passenger is outstanding and is a benchmark of what cabin service should be. And this applies to ground staff as well, where the standards are just as high.
And Virgin’s crew treat every passenger whether in row 1 or at the back of the aircraft as a special guest.Both airlines’ products and value propositions for their respective markets are up there with the best.