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The World’s Top Airlines

This year’s “Airline of the Year” is Asiana, says the latest award list from Skytrax. And no line based in either North America or Europe made the top 10, a list again dominated by lines based in Asia, the Middle East, or the Pacific. These awards always generate a lot of ink and pixels, but I’m not sure they help you much in your real travel world. {{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}The top 10 airlines are Asiana, Singapore, Qatar, Cathay Pacific, Air New Zealand, Etihad, Qantas, Emirates, Thai, and Malaysia. The scoring, says London-based Skytrax, is based on survey results from almost 18 million travelers of more than 100 nationalities, covering more than 200 airlines, and calculated from scores for 38 separate product and service items.

Most of you, however, would find these more specific results to be of greater interest:

  • Top North American airlines: Air Canada, Continental, and Delta.
  • Top transatlantic lines: Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, and Lufthansa.
  • Top transpacific lines: Cathay Pacific, Singapore, and Asiana.
  • Best economy class: Malaysia, Qatar, and Singapore.
  • Best premium economy: Qantas, Air New Zealand, and ANA.
  • Best economy cabin catering: Turkish, Etihad, and Qatar.
  • Best economy seats: Kingfisher, Asiana, and Qatar.
  • Best premium economy seats: Qantas, EVA, and ANA.
  • Top low-cost lines: AirAsia, AirBerlin, and Virgin Blue.
  • Best “staff service” among North American lines: WestJet, Virgin America, and Alaska.
  • Top low-cost lines in North America: Virgin America, WestJet, and Southwest.
  • Check World Airline Awards for all the other awards.

For the most part, I can’t argue with—or even comment on—the survey’s overall results, given that I’ve flown on only four of the top 10 lines, some of them decades ago. The only award I question seriously is Virgin America as the top low-cost North American line: To me, JetBlue has a superior product.

In addition to these recent awards, Skytrax maintains an ongoing database on airlines it rates from one to five stars. As you might suspect, all six five-star lines are Asian/Middle Eastern. The four-star group includes most other big Asian/Pacific/Mideast and European lines; Toronto-based Porter is the only four-star line based in North America. All other Canadian lines and all U.S. lines are in the three-star group. The two-star list includes mainly airlines you don’t fly but it does include notorious Ryanair. The only one-star line is North Korean.

Why do the Asian and Middle Eastern consistently get such high scores? I suggest three reasons:

  • Just about any airline provides better service on its long-haul routes than on short trips, and a much higher portion of travelers on Asian and Middle Eastern lines fly long hauls, as compared with airlines based in Europe or the United States.
  • My guess is that a disproportionate number of Skytrax’s survey responses came from male travelers, who presumably favor the sort of deferential treatment they receive from female attendants on Asian and Middle Eastern lines. My wife considers the treatment she’s observed on some of those lines to be “sexist,” a view with which you may or may not agree.
  • A disproportionate number of responses appear to be from business-class travelers, and these lines emphasize their lavish business class products.

Even given the survey’s probable bias toward predominantly long-haul lines, however, just about all the anecdotal evidence I can find suggests that service levels on most U.S. line are currently pretty poor by world standards. Most of my world-traveler friends tell me they fly a U.S. line only if it’s much cheaper or has a much better schedule than a foreign competitor.

And that’s why you may not find these results useful. Most of you select an airline based on some combination of schedule and price, plus—maybe—frequent-flyer considerations. Relative survey rankings may enter the picture, at best, as tiebreakers, and more often not at all. Still, you might as well consider these results when you can—it couldn’t hurt.

Do you find the World Airline Awards helpful in selecting a carrier for your travels? Share your thoughts by submitting a comment below!

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