In this post I wanted to share my favorite airline brands in the world. I think this is a fun topic that other aviation freaks will appreciate, especially at a time when borders are largely closed and travel options are severely limited.
What makes a great airline brand?
Brand perceptions (and brand loyalty as a whole) are highly subjective, and some may even argue irrationally.
In separate posts I have rated the world’s best first-class products, the world’s best first-class lounges, the world’s best business-class seats, etc. My ranking of airline brands is a little different (inherently) as it is more about the intangible things we love about airlines as a whole.
Let me be clear – I am not saying that these are the best airlines in the world, but that these are the airline brands that excite me the most. This can be for a number of reasons, including:
- Because they offer a great passenger experience including a good hard product, excellent service, etc.
- Because they are located in cool places and connect fantastic parts of the world
- Because they are doing a great job with their marketing and their overall brand presence
- Because they are super global and when I fly with them I feel a sense of excitement and wanderlust
- As they are airlines, I have special memories of them, either because of the experience on board or because I traveled with them
As you can see, I’m really ubiquitous here when it comes to how an airline can get on my list. You can assume that if someone asks me what my favorite airline is in the world, there is probably one airline on the list.
My eight most popular airline brands in the world
Let’s get out of the way with the above. A couple of things to consider in advance:
- I apologize in advance for the lack of geographic diversity as all but one airline is based in Asia. Maybe I should make a separate list of my favorite brands from each continent
- I am not considering coronavirus in any way here when talking about what makes these airlines so special. So imagine we are here either pre-coronavirus or post-coronavirus (this is important for the onboard experience, goals, etc.).
- Let’s skip the politics, please
Here are my favorite airline brands around the world, roughly sorted by preference:
It might surprise some people to see Turkish Airlines at the top of my list, but I think Turkish Airlines really strikes such a special balance:
- Turkish Airlines is the world’s most global airline and flies to more countries than any other airline
- Istanbul is an amazing, dynamic global hub. I would even argue that it is a kind of center of the world
- Turkish Airlines offers the world’s best business class catering
- In general, I find the Turks to be some of the most truly hospitable and knowledgeable in the world and I love how much this is built into the Turkish Airlines experience. Many other global airlines “import” employees from other parts of the world, but when you fly with Turkish Airlines you really feel like you are in Turkey
There is only this special feeling when I fly with Turkish Airlines because I know that I can fly almost anywhere in the world with a layover, from Bishkek to Ulaanbaatar (yes, the airline even operated a fifth freedom route between these two cities ).
Turkish Airlines 787 Business Class
Qatar Airways is an incredibly elegant and sophisticated airline. Qatar Airways has revolutionized business class with its Qsuites, and there is no other airline that offers such a consistent and impressive premium cabin experience. Qatar Airways executives say there is no need for first class when you have Qsuites and I almost agree which is quite a testament to what the airline is offering.
Qatar Airways A350 Qsuites Business Class
Hamad International Airport in Doha is also a solid hub and I think the Qatar Airways travel experience is pleasant and consistent. I’m also a sucker for Qatar Airways marketing. Don’t ask me how much time I spend listening to the Qatar Airways boarding music while I’m off the plane because it’s a lot. 😉
How could an airline startup with only a few planes get on my list? I understand that a lot of people don’t understand my obsession with Starlux Airlines. I had the opportunity to fly this airline soon after it launched, and this airline is in a league of its own among startups.
While most of the new airlines are low-cost airlines, Starlux describes itself as a “detail-oriented luxury airline” and aims to become “the Emirates of Taiwan”. Usually companies take some liberties to describe themselves, but that’s not the case with Starlux.
This is an airline startup like no other and I can’t wait for this airline to expand into long haul markets after A350 delivery.
And then there’s the story of how the airline I love was started. The founder of Starlux was formerly CEO of EVA Air, but was ousted by his three half-siblings. He then vowed to found his own airline, and Starlux Airlines was born. I love a good revenge airline!
Starlux Airlines A321neo Business Class
To be honest, Emirates is to some extent style over substance. The airline is getting quite a halo effect with its First Class and A380, while the 777 comes with a sub-par Business Class product that is the backbone of its fleet (not to mention the economy isn’t particularly spacious either) .
Still, Emirates is damn cool. The airline has transformed global aviation and put the Middle East on the map as a global transportation hub. There is also no airline in the world that is as instantly recognizable to people as Emirates, no matter where you are.
Oh, and while there is some style over substance, the A380 on-board shower, minibar, and curb are still mighty cool if you ask me. 😉
Emirates A380 first class shower
I love Cathay Pacific for both the airline itself and my love for Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the first city in Asia I ever visited and to this day it is one of my favorite cities in the world. Every time I fly Cathay Pacific I know that at least I connect in Hong Kong and that excites me in ways I cannot put into words.
Approaching Hong Kong, my favorite view in the world
And then there’s the Cathay Pacific experience as such – Cathay Pacific offers phenomenal first class, generally excellent service and great lounges at Hong Kong International Airport, which is also a great transportation hub.
Cathay Pacific 777 first class
I would say Singapore Airlines is one of the two fastest recognizable airlines in the world alongside Emirates. Singapore Airlines has been considered one of the best airlines in the world for several decades, and the airline has done a remarkable job of maintaining its position.
The Singapore Airlines in-flight experience is industry-leading in all staterooms. In addition, Singapore Changi is arguably the best airport in the world. Most of all, I would say that the Singapore Airlines staff are the most consistent and professional. When you get on Singapore Airlines First Class and are asked if you’d like Dom Perignon or Krug, you’ll never get old either. 😉
Singapore Airlines A380 Suites first class
When you think of Gulf airlines, the three big ones usually come to mind – Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar. However, there is one boutique airline in the Gulf that I love and that is Oman Air.
Oman Air is spectacular – Oman is a fantastic country and Muscat is a great city (with a new airport) and the airline has Apex Suites in business class. I also like how Omani culture is incorporated into the experience a bit more than you would find with other Gulf airlines. For example, a good percentage of the cabin crew on Oman Air is actually Omani. Oh, and I love the Oman Air boarding music too.
I’ve always enjoyed my flights with Oman Air and can’t wait to fly the airline again.
Oman Air 787 Business Class
All Nippon Airways
I went back and forth as to whether I should include ANA or JAL on this list, as it really could have been. The reality is that a Japanese airline has to be on the list just because Japan is a unique place. There is nothing like Japanese culture, and that is also reflected in both of Japan’s global airlines.
Personally, although I put ANA on this list, I have preferred JAL over ANA in the past because the airline has introduced some incredible new first class and business class products for their 777. Gosh, I can’t wait to get on a flight to Japan again after the coronavirus.
ANA 777 Business Class
I know a lot of us go through an international travel deduction so I thought it would be fun to make a list of my favorite airline brands. As mentioned earlier, airlines made my list for a variety of reasons.
I think the above are some really well rounded airlines, although I’m not suggesting that you should absolutely think that they are the best in the world. Some airlines have made my list based on the experience they offer, others based on their location, and some based on specific experiences I’ve had with the airline.
I am curious to hear from you – what are your favorite airline brands?