Travel Tips

World’s Most Amazing Airlines

Who said the Golden Age of Travel is over? Airlines around the globe are rolling out the red carpet (think 82-inch-long beds, a la carte menus by Michelin-starred chefs and HD-enabled TV screens). The World’s Best airlines, as selected by Travel + Leisure ranked 39 carriers based on cabin comfort, in-flight service, customer service, value, and food. Here, the 15 you want to be flying.

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No. 1 International: Singapore Airlines

For 20 years in a row, Singapore Airlines has maintained its position as the No. 1 international airline. How has it stayed on top? Singapore always sets the industry standard for service and for comfort. It was the first commercial airline to offer complimentary beverages and more than one meal option in economy. More recently, it became the first airline to fly the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, and it recently revealed its premium economy class. Here, travelers can watch in-flight entertainment on 13.3” high-def monitors, sprawl out with foldout leg (and calf!) rests, and sip champagne. Whether you’re lounging in first class—on lie-flat beds reaching 82-inches in length and eating off Givenchy china—or in economy, on bolstered backrest cushions, the iconic “Singapore Girl” flight attendants, donning traditional batik-print sarong kebayas, provide unbeatable service to all, thanks to a rigorous four-month training program.

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No. 2 International: Emirates

This Middle Eastern carrier has returned to the top of the pack, which suggests an improvement in customer service. In-flight food continues to impress, with regional specialties (Arabic meze, lamb stew) served on bone china and fine linens in first class. Whether you’re in economy or elbowing up to the first class bar, the in-flight entertainment can’t be beat, thanks to the live TV programming. Even the amenity kits blow the competition away. The rugged Italian-leather men's kit contains Bvlgari products, which can also be found in the airline's signature first class Shower Spa.

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No. 3 International: Qatar Airways

After slipping significantly on the World’s Best list, the Doha-based carrier has returned to the top of the pack. Maybe it’s the new extra-wide body Airbus 350, or its in-flight menu designed by Master Chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Vineet Bhatia. Or it could be the impressive on-board wine list, developed by Master of Wines James Cluer, who literally climbs mountains to make sure your wine tastes excellent even at 30,000-feet? Next year, Qatar Airways will expand its service to Atlanta, Boston, and Los Angeles. And for those looking to shorten their travel to-do list, the airline's groundbreaking print-at-home luggage tags can be downloaded for 103 outgoing routes from the new Hamad International Airport.

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No. 4 International: Cathay Pacific Airways

Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific keeps its strong position by making incremental changes to its interiors and food service in every cabin. By working with Michelin-starred restaurants in Hong Kong to create upscale, regionally-inspired menus, and loading their fleet with specially-designed equipment, like the revolutionary onboard rice cooker, Cathay Pacific distinguishes itself as one of the world’s best airlines for food. Thanks to headrests with side wings (which adjust four ways for ultimate neck support), coat hooks, and a cup holder that doesn't require use of the tray table, a long-haul flight on this carrier, even in economy, can be a pleasure.

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No. 5 International: Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand’s new fleet of Dreamliners outfitted with Economy SkyCouches is earning gigantic gold stars with families. The flexible seating option allows passengers to purchase three adjacent seats and, thanks to armrests that virtually disappear and pull-out footrests, becomes a comfy sofa. T+L readers have always given the Kiwi carrier high marks for value and service, sometimes best expressed through small, thoughtful touches: think hilarious in-flight safety videos (featuring everyone from Betty White to Richard Simmons and Sports Illustrated swimsuit models) and adjustable winged headrests in economy.

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No. 6 International: Virgin Atlantic Airways

Sir Richard Branson celebrated the 30th birthday of his flagship carrier this year, bringing on sharply tailored Vivienne Westwood-designed uniforms (in the company’s iconic red hue) and a new fleet of Dreamliners. The cheeky airline, known for pioneering seat-back video and amenity kits in every class, continues to impress. Its trailblazing premium economy class offers roomy leather seats with a 38-inch pitch (the distance between the back of your seat and the fellow in front of you) a welcome glass of champagne, and traditional British fare served on china with stainless steel cutlery. There’s afternoon tea, of course, and pudding.

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No. 7 International: Thai Airways

Many travelers believe this Asian airline could use a refresh, but it hasn’t kept the carrier from slipping down the rungs. We suspect it has something to do with its award-winning economy class cabin, which doesn’t reserve comfort and small luxuries exclusively for premium class cabins. Even in coach, passengers enjoy 32-inch seat pitch, foot rests, and two meals even on six-hour flights. What’s not to love about stir-fried chicken, pork with noodles, or chicken curry with rice? 

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No. 8 International: Korean Air

Despite that embarrassing “nut-rage” incident earlier this year, Korean Air still won over T+L readers. Excellent service, menus that feature Western, Chinese, Japanese, and quintessential Korean dishes, and seats in economy that somehow provide 34-inch pitch might have something to do with it. Updates like USB ports at every seat and in-flight duty-free shops peddling Longchamp totes and Crown Royal whisky are outshone only by the Celestial Bar on A380s. Here, first and prestige-class passengers can unwind, sip hand-crafted cocktails, and enjoy impressive views from the stratosphere.

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No. 9 International: All Nippon Airways (ANA)

Fashion-forward flight attendant uniforms, designed by Prabal Gurung, are just one of the ways this Japanese airline continues to rise in the ranks, overshadowing even Japan Airlines. In business class, passengers can enjoy a seat that lies flat. Another plus: the seats’ unique staggered configuration, which makes it possible to move about the cabin without disturbing your seatmates. A competitive premium economy cabin and a good sense of humor also keep the airline on top: consider the Star Wars-themed R2-D2 livery coming soon to an airport near you.

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No. 10 International: Qantas Airways

Consistent growth has finally placed Australia’s flag carrier on the International Top 10 list. Chalk it up to continued improvements to in-flight comfort, such as Marc Newson’s Skybeds with massage settings in business class, and economy seats with clever hammock-style footrests for tired tootsies. Also in business class? Chic, his-and-her amenity kits with graphic prints and hues by Jack and Kate Spade. Inside are Australian ASPAR products in South Pacific scents like sweet orange, almond, and rose geranium. Qantas also flies the world’s longest flight: 8,500 miles and a solid 16 hours. Is it any wonder travelers demand only the best from this far-flung flier?

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No. 1 Domestic: Virgin America

How does this California-based airline beat the domestic competition? By being the fastest airline in the country--shaving up to seven minutes off the average flight time--and by loading its snack trolleys with local artisanal goods from its home city. Our personal favorites are the Hail Merry gluten-free macaroons, and 479° Sea Salt Caramel Popcorn. Best of all? You can order your snack of choice on a seatback touch-screen system.

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No. 2 Domestic: JetBlue Airways

The domestic carrier has had a big year, especially for travelers willing to splurge a bit on premium seating. Last summer, the airline debuted its first premium cabins: but don’t call it business class. JetBlue’s Mint experience brings lie-flat seats (some with sliding doors for greater privacy) and his-and-hers amenity kits assembled by Birchbox to transcontinental flights. For those in economy, sleek new seats are outfitted with power outlets and large, personal screens with free DirecTV.

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No. 3 Domestic: Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines gets travelers in the island spirit thanks to new Manuheali’i-designed amenity kits and one of the best on-time performance rates of any domestic carrier. T+L readers consistently give the airline praise for friendly customer service and its attention to travelers at all cabin levels. They remain the only U.S. carrier to serve complimentary meals in coach, featuring Hawaiian signatures like Loco Moco (and snacks like Spam musubi). What’s more, the carrier recently invested in a new premium economy class, with five blessed extra inches of legroom and a souvenir pillow.

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No. 4 Domestic: Southwest Airlines

Value has long been the Dallas-based airline’s best quality, and the deals continue as nationwide frustration with hidden ancillary fees continues to rise. Last month, Southwest Airlines broke the internet with a 72-hour sale offering rates as low as $49 for one-way tickets. Its Bags Fly Free policy makes it one of the only remaining domestic airlines not to charge for checked bags. And now Southwest goes global, with flights to Mexico, Costa Rica, Belize, Aruba, and more.

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No. 5 Domestic: Alaska Airlines

Fly Alaska for reliable departure times. It has one of the best on-time performance ratings of nay U.S. carrier. Though T+L readers agree that the flight itself isn’t too shabby. New Boeing Space Bins mean less hassle when stowing your carry-on luggage, (the compartments hold 49 percent more and hang 2-inches lower) custom-designed Recaro leather seats bring power chargers to every passenger, and a new partnership with James Beard-awarded chef Tom Douglas means comforting Pacific Northwest cuisine, like brisket chili with Yukon gold potatoes.