Many travellers seem to be fascinated by airlines, but I am not one of them. For me, it’s just about getting safe and comfortable from A to B, and no experience I’ve had on an aeroplane could compare with some of the best hotel experiences I have had. I appreciate it when I have space enough to be comfortable, or when I get a window seat, and definitely when it’s quiet onboard. A window seat is often important for me on long flights to get some kind of sleep, while it’s not a big deal on most short-haul flights.
My list of the top 10 best airlines is based on my personal experiences flying approximately 1,000 times on over 200 different airlines. Yes, it’s a lot, but on the other hand, I consider myself a minimalist and didn’t own many things in my years as a full-time traveller.
The fashion industry is responsible for more global carbon emission than all international flights, so if you feel bad about flying a lot, maybe it’s a good idea to buy a lot fewer clothes. I don’t own many clothes, and I like not spending much time deciding what to wear. It makes life more simple and thereby happier, in my opinion, but everybody has different preferences.
While this list is about the ten best airlines, I would also like to mention the two worst airlines I have been on. Air Koryo. It used to be known as the only 1-star airline globally, and I think it’s well-deserved. They apparently use older Russian jetliners, and being on board didn’t feel great and at times scary. I don’t know if it was the wind conditions or the conditions of the plane, but the flight turbulence level was horrible and very uncomfortable.
The other airline is Flyme (Villa Air) of the Maldives. I have flown them several times, and it’s just not a good feeling being on board their planes. It felt unsafe and uncomfortable several times, and one time was with some of the worst turbulence I have ever experienced. If you need to fly domestic in the Maldives, I would recommend any other option.
Ryanair is actually not one of the worst airlines in my opinion. They have an impressive safety record, is super cheap and has an impressive route network. However, lack of great comfort and service means it won’t make it on this list.
Below is my top 10 list, but first some honourable mentions: Air Baltic, Air Namibia, Atlantic Airways, Azul Airlines, British Airways, Etihad Airways, Finnair, Icelandair, JetBlue, KLM, Thai Airways, Tradewind Aviation and Virgin Australia.
10. Scandinavian Airlines
There are probably many airlines frequent travellers would prefer over Scandinavian Airlines, but this is my personal list. Scandinavian Airlines offers a consistently comfortable flight experience. I feel safe onboard. They speak my language or one of the other Scandinavian languages, making it feel more homely. A well-deserved spot on the list.
Lufthansa is rarely my airline of choice because of its very high prices. I don’t know if I have ever seen Lufthansa being the cheapest option, but it’s an excellent airline with high quality. I am not a fan of their hub, Frankfurt Airport, and I don’t know if I will ever fly them again as they might never be the cheapest option for me.
If I were looking to get Star Alliance status, then that would be a different story. Then it’s worth it to pay a bit more to make sure you fly an airline within the same alliance. However, when it comes to loyalty programs of Star Alliance, I much prefer United Airlines Mileage Plus program, although United for sure isn’t one of my favourite airlines.
8. Virgin Atlantic
There are three Virgin airline brands. Virgin America (however now no longer operating), Virgin Australia and Virgin Atlantic and the last one really impressed me. A beautiful modern design, good comfort and friendly service. Virgin Atlantic flies to exotic destinations such as Lagos, Nigeria, Cape Town, South Africa, Johannesburg, South Africa, Islamabad, Pakistan, Cuba, Barbados, Grenada, Tobago and Jamaica.
It is probably a favourite airline of many, known for its excellent service, comfort, and great route network. They are not a member of an alliance, which is probably a big negative for frequent flyers. I have flown them several times, and I enjoyed the complimentary internet access on my most recent flights. A great addition to an already great product. Emirates is, however, rarely the cheapest options for me flying from Europe to Asia or Africa, so I don’t know if I will be flying them again as I am very focused on the price.
The flag carrier of Australia has great service and good comfort. I have travelled a lot in Australia, but I have rarely flown Qantas as Jetstar and Tiger Airways were often cheaper. Qantas is a member of One World, which means I can redeem British Airways miles to fly them when there is availability. It is precious on short-haul flights, in my opinion.
5. Qatar Airways
I rank Qatar Airways high on this list for several reasons. 1. Their professional service. 2. Their comfort, even in economy class. 3. The value for money. Qatar Airways is often the cheapest or one of the cheapest options for flights between continents, with a stop at their hub in Doha.
4. One World. Qatar Airways is a member of One World, which makes it possible for me to earn valuable British Airways miles that I can use on my favourite airline, the number one spot on this list. 5. Their impressive route network. I just checked Wikipedia, and it says 173 destinations. When I, in April 2016, completed my journey to every country in the world, I arrived in Asmara, Eritrea on a Qatar Airways plane.
4. Air New Zealand
New Zealand is one of my favourite countries, but it is unfortunately very far away. If it were closer, I probably would fly Air New Zealand a lot more. It’s a fantastic airline with some of the best service and comfort. With the name, Air New Zealand most would probably think they only fly to/from New Zealand, but my best experience with Air New Zealand was actually flying business class from London to Los Angeles.
3. South African Airways
South Africa is the country I usually answer as my favourite country in the World. It’s a beautiful country with a lot to do and see. It’s great value for money, and it’s a great mix of comfortable luxurious experiences and adventure.
I’ve stayed in luxurious safari camps and world-class hotels in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Still, I have also hitchhiked in Johannesburg and taken a very uncomfortable train (actually my worst train journey in all of my travels) in the Western Cape province.
So, the airline. South African Airways is one of my favourite airlines for its comfort and the feeling I have had being onboard their planes. I like their contemporary colours, the service and also the food. I often skip food onboard airlines, but airlines like Air New Zealand and South African Airways really deliver on this. It is by airline standards, of course, as I don’t think it will be possible to have anything close to a Michelin-starred experience onboard an airline.
2. Singapore Airlines
Widely regarded as one of the World’s best airlines for many years, Singapore Airlines deserves its spot on this list as well. It probably has the best service of any airline. I have flown business class with Singapore Airlines several times, and the best service I have ever experienced on an airline was from Copenhagen to Singapore in July 2010.
Food-wise I have been impressed with their high quality of ice cream from Denmark, while I remember a disappointing main course in the past, so I won’t rank them as the best food experience on board a plane. That would instead be Sun-Air of Scandinavia, South African Airways and Air New Zealand.
1. Sun-Air of Scandinavia
I am sure many haven’t heard of this airline, and maybe it can be hard to believe how I can rank this higher than Singapore Airlines and Emirates, but please let me explain. Sun-Air of Scandinavia is a Danish airline that operates on a limited number of routes but with a consistently high-quality flight experience.
All the planes are pretty small, and there is a limited amount of other passengers meaning the entire flight experience from boarding to arrival is easy. With all the other airlines on this list, you might wait a long time for your turn when the plane is boarding or stand in line for a long time before it’s finally your turn. Sun-Air is perfect for business travellers who need to get comfortable and time effectively from A to B and enjoy a great comfort level.
Flying Sun-Air of Scandinavia is very expensive, but I found a way to make it possible for me to fly the airline at a very low cost. British Airways miles. SUN-Air of Scandinavia is actually a franchise of British Airways, but a different experience. Each seat is like a first-class or business class experience. The service onboard is excellent, and so is the food. The attention to details is impressive, and for me, this airline is just on another level when it comes to having an enjoyable flight experience.
I am sure it’s a more significant experience to have a room onboard a plane like on Etihad or Emirates, but I haven’t tried that. Based on my experiences with flying, I prefer consistent convenience and comfort, and so far, SUN-Air of Scandinavia is simply the best, in my opinion.