Between overbooking, delays, lost luggage, and minimal legroom, there’s plenty to whine about when it comes to flying. That’s why when we come across an airline that successfully goes above and beyond simply transporting travelers from point A to point B -- whether flying in first-class or coach -- we’re ready to shout our love from the rooftops. Okay, maybe not exactly, but we did use it as an excuse to create a list of our favorite airlines in the world. The following carriers score big for cabin comfort, in-flight service and entertainment, and quality food. Spoiler alert: One Middle Eastern-based airline was chosen not once, but three times. Can you guess which one?
All Nippon Airways
“I’ve only had the opportunity to fly Japan’s All Nippon Airways one time (in coach) in my travel career, and it was easily the best flight experience I’ve ever had — and I’m counting all of my first class flights here. For starters, it was the cleanest plane I’ve ever encountered. Crews cleaned the sizable bathrooms and restocked the fancy soaps several times on the flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo. My seat was spacious and I appreciated the foot rest for elevating my feet and the easy-to-use touchscreen entertainment system with tons of movie options. Smiling flight attendants served hot green tea throughout the trip, and even though I slept through the meal service, a friendly flight attendant approached me a few minutes after I woke up with, ‘Ms. Wood? Would you like your dinner now?’ I was absolutely blown away by the service and it was an excellent introduction to the cleanliness, efficiency, and courtesy I found throughout Japan.” — Megan Wood, Editor
“They say ‘it’s all in the details,’ and the detail that made me an Emirates booster was the lotion. Airplane bathrooms are miserable affairs with zero ventilation, no counter space, and sad pump dispensers of soap as the only means of freshening up. But Emirates had wood paneling, sanitary napkins, and proper toiletries like scented lotion. Mind you, this is coach, where the bathrooms are still cubbies, but civilized ones. (In first class, they have full showers.) When I got back to my seat, I turned to my husband and insisted, ‘You have to see the bathrooms!’ as if I’d just come out of the powder room from a Michelin-starred restaurant. This was after I’d watched multiple movies on the plane’s media library, dined on a legitimately good dinner, and donned my eye mask for sleep. Of course, there were plenty of things that went wrong — my flight was late, the air-conditioning shut off for the first 20 minutes, and there were multiple (multiple!) crying babies near me. But even with all those shortcomings, I still came off my first Emirates flight a fan.” — Maria Teresa Hart, Senior Editor
“I’ve made my pick purely based on economy class, since business and first are a whole different world. Without a doubt, Emirates has the nicest economy class of any airline I’ve ever flown (which was great, since I spent 26 hours on board over the course of four days). Not only did every economy passenger receive an amenity kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, eye mask, etc.), but the seats actually reclined a reasonable amount! Plus, the meals were pretty great, and there were a lot of them on my long-haul flights. I flew the A380, so there were quite a few flight attendants taking care of the hundreds of passengers on my deck, and I found their service to be delightful. Also, the entertainment system is top-notch, with thousands of movies and shows, plus live TV. Clearly, I can’t say enough good things about flying Emirates — and that’s a rarity with today’s skies.” — Stefanie Waldek, Editor
“I had the pleasure of flying Emirates to Dubai in 2016 and I was blown away by their service and offerings. Given the flight was over 12 hours and I was flying economy, I was worried how comfortable I’d be, but those fears were unfounded. My seat was fairly roomy, I had access to thousands of entertainment options including blockbuster movies, and Wi-Fi cost me just $1. There were multiple tasty food services during my flight (wine and beer included), and fruit and candy like full-size Kit Kat bars were always available at stations throughout the plane. I could stand up and stretch near the bathrooms for as long as I wished, and blankets and eye masks helped ensure I could doze off restfully. Although I didn’t have access to them, on-board showers, lounges, and full-reclining seats for first-class customers up the ante. Additionally, the impeccably put-together flight crew can always collectively speak multiple languages, making the journey even more stress-free for travelers.” — Lara Grant, Editor
Qatar Airways & Norwegian
“I have no love for any airline beyond what can get me to where I want to go on the most convenient schedule and for the cheapest fare. That being said, I will avoid notoriously subpar budget airlines like Spirit — especially for long-haul journeys (like their flights from NYC to Colombia). Norwegian does a nice job of getting you to Europe without feeling too bare bones, while it’s hard to argue with Qatar Airways’ amazing terminals in Qatar and stellar in-flight entertainment program.” — Kyle Valenta, Senior Editor
“Qantas, baby! Yes, some transpacific travelers say Qantas’ glory days are behind them, but the Australian airline’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which debuted last month, should re-up its prestige. (The new jets will fly non-stop from Perth to London — the second-longest flight in the world — beginning this March.) The new fleet will offer Qantas’ usual great perks, including amenity kits with SK-II or Aurora Spa beauty products, truly decent meals, and an excellent in-flight drinks program starring Australian wines. Pro tip: On long-haul flights, travelers can ask for a private, off-the-menu wine tasting in the service galley. It’s free for all passengers — not just first-class — and allows them every variety on board. Cheers!” — Anne Olivia Bauso, Associate Editor
“I should preface this by saying I had the pleasure of flying business class, though my boyfriend, who flew in coach had rave reviews, too. With impeccable service and food, top-notch value, and an emphasis on comfort, Cathay Pacific ticks all the boxes for a relaxing, enjoyable flight. Lackluster bags of peanuts are replaced with a tasty, regionally-inspired menu and cramped seats are swapped with lie-flat beds as well as head rests with side wings for maximum support. The friendly staff even calls fliers by name. Throw in plenty of entertainment options (plus individual USB chargers to juice up your devices) and that long-haul flight will fly by in a flash.” — Alisha Prakash, Editor
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