What Are The World’s Best Airline Brands?

Filed Under: Travel

In this post I wanted to share my favorite airline brands in the world. I think this is a fun topic that fellow aviation geeks may appreciate, especially at a time when borders are largely closed, and when travel opportunities are greatly reduced.

What makes a great airline brand?

Perception of brands (and brand loyalty overall) is highly subjective, and some might even argue irrational.

In separate posts I’ve ranked 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 bit different (by design), as it’s more about the intangible things that we love about airlines overall.

Let me be clear — I’m not suggesting that these are the world’s best airlines, but rather that these are the airline brands that get me most excited. This can be for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Because they offer a great passenger experience, including a good hard product, excellent service, etc.
  • Because they are based in cool places, and connect awesome parts of the world
  • Because they do a great job with their marketing and overall brand presence
  • Because they’re super global, and whenever I fly with them I feel a sense of excitement and wanderlust
  • Because they are airlines I have special memories on, either because of the onboard experience, or because of where I traveled on them

As you can see, I’m truly all over the place here with regards to how an airline can land on my list. You can expect that if someone asked me what my favorite airline in the world is, it would probably be an airline on the list.

My eight favorite airline brands in the world

With the above out of the way, let’s get into the rankings. A few things to note upfront:

  • I apologize in advance for the lack of geographic diversity, as all but one airline are based in Asia; perhaps I should make a separate list with my favorite airline brand from each continent
  • I’m not in any way factoring in coronavirus here when I talk about what makes these airlines special, so pretend we’re either pre-coronavirus or post-coronavirus here (this matters in terms of onboard experience, destinations, etc.)
  • Let’s leave politics out of this, please

With that out of the way, here are my favorite airline brands in the world, roughly ranked by preference:

Turkish Airlines

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 most global airline in the world, flying to more countries than any other airline
  • Istanbul is such an amazing, dynamic global hub; I’d even argue it’s kind of the center of the world
  • Turkish Airlines has the world’s best business class catering
  • In general I find Turkish people to be among the most genuinely hospitable and competent in the world, and I love how much that’s integrated into the Turkish Airlines experience; many other global airlines “import” staff from other parts of the world, but when you fly Turkish Airlines you really feel like you’re in Turkey

There’s just this special feeling I get when flying Turkish Airlines, knowing that in one stop I could fly just about anywhere in the world, from Bishkek to Ulaanbaatar (yes, the airline even used to operate a fifth freedom route between those two cities).

Turkish Airlines 787 business class

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways is an incredibly elegant and sophisticated airline. Qatar Airways revolutionized business class with its Qsuites, and there’s not another airline that offers such a consistent and impressive premium cabin experience. Qatar Airways executives say there’s no need for first class when you have Qsuites, and I almost agree, which is quite a testament to what the airline offers.

Qatar Airways A350 Qsuites business class

Doha’s Hamad International Airport is also a solid hub, and all around I feel like the Qatar Airways travel experience is pleasant and consistent. I am also a sucker for Qatar Airways’ marketing. Don’t ask me how much time I spend listening to Qatar Airways’ boarding music while not on a plane, because it’s a lot. 😉

Starlux Airlines

How could an airline startup with just a few planes make my list? I get that a lot of people don’t understand my Starlux Airlines obsession. I had the chance to fly this airline shortly after it launched, and this airline is in a league of its own among startups.

While most new airlines are budget carriers, Starlux describes itself as “a detail-oriented luxury airline,” and it wants to become “the Emirates of Taiwan.” Usually companies take some liberties with describing themselves, but that’s not the case with Starlux.

This is an airline startup unlike any other, and I can’t wait until this airline expands into long haul markets once it takes delivery of A350s.

And then there’s the story of how the airline started, which I love as well. The founder of Starlux used to be CEO of EVA Air, but was ousted by his three half-siblings. Following that he vowed to start his own airline, and that’s how Starlux Airlines was born. I love a good revenge airline!

Starlux Airlines A321neo business class

Emirates Airline

Truth be told, Emirates is style over substance to some extent. The airline gets quite a halo effect from its first class and A380s, while the airline has a subpar business class product on its 777s, which are the backbone of its fleet (not to mention that economy isn’t particularly spacious either).

Still, Emirates is pretty darn cool. The airline has changed global aviation, and has put the Middle East on the map as a global transit hub. There’s also not an airline in the world that’s as instantly recognizable to people as Emirates, no matter where you are.

Oh, and while there may be some style over substance, the A380 onboard shower, minibars, and onboard bar, are still mighty cool, if you ask me. 😉

Emirates A380 first class shower

Cathay Pacific

I love Cathay Pacific both because of the airline as such, and because of my love for Hong Kong. Hong Kong is the first city in Asia I ever visited, and to this day it’s one of my favorite cities in the world. Every time I fly Cathay Pacific I know I’m at least connecting in Hong Kong, and that gets me excited in a way I can’t put into words.

Approaching Hong Kong, my favorite view in the world

And then there’s the Cathay Pacific experience as such — Cathay Pacific has a phenomenal first class, generally excellent service, and great lounges at Hong Kong International Airport, which is also an awesome transit hub.

Cathay Pacific 777 first class

Singapore Airlines

I’d say Singapore Airlines is one of the two most instantly recognizable airlines in the world, along with Emirates. Singapore Airlines has been considered to be one of the best airlines in the world for the past couple of decades, and the airline has done a remarkable job maintaining its position.

The Singapore Airlines inflight experience is industry-leading in all cabins, and on top of that Singapore Changi is arguably the best airport in the world. Most of all, I’d say Singapore Airlines staff are the most consistently professional of just about any out there. Boarding Singapore Airlines first class and being asked whether you’d like Dom Perignon or Krug also never gets old. 😉

Singapore Airlines A380 Suites first class

Oman Air

When people think of Gulf airlines, the big three usually come to mind — Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar. However, there’s a boutique Gulf airline that I love, and that’s Oman Air.

Oman Air is spectacular — Oman is an awesome country and Muscat a great city (with a new airport), and the airline has Apex Suites in business class. I also like how Omani culture is integrated into the experience a bit more than you’d find on other Gulf carriers. For example, a good percentage of the cabin crew on Oman Air are actually Omani. Oh, and I also love Oman Air’s boarding music.

I’ve always enjoyed my flights on Oman Air, and can’t wait to fly the airline again.

Oman Air 787 business class

All Nippon Airways

I went back and forth about whether to include ANA or JAL on this list, as it really could have been either. The reality is that a Japanese airline has to be on the list simply because Japan is a one-of-a-kind place. There’s nothing like Japanese culture, and that’s reflected so well in both of Japan’s global airlines.

Personally I’ve historically preferred JAL over ANA, though I’m putting ANA on this list because the airline introduced some incredible new first class and business class products on its 777s. Gosh, I can’t wait for the feeling of boarding a flight to Japan again post-coronavirus.

ANA 777 business class

Bottom line

I know many of us are going through international travel withdrawal, so I thought it would be fun to create a list with my favorite airline brands. As I mentioned, airlines made my list for a variety of reasons.

I do think the above are some really well rounded airlines, though I’m not suggesting you should necessarily think they’re the best in the world. Some airlines made my list because of the experience they offer, some made my list because of where they’re based, and some made my list because of special experiences I’ve had on the airline.

I’m curious to hear from you guys — what are your favorite airline brands?

  1. Having flown Cancun–Istanbul–Astana on Turkish Airlines, your remark about the one-stop journey to anywhere in the world on Turkish definitely resonates with me. I’m looking forward to the next time I get to connect through IST on a totally wild routing.

  2. Haven’t flown through Hong Kong in a little while. Last time I was on CX the airport in your picture was the one in use. Yep, not been there since Kai Tak ceased to be the airport there. But agree that Cathay is up there.

  3. Which of these airlines do you consider to be based outside of Asia? Aren’t all of them based in Asia?

  4. @Max: Turkish Airlines and its main hub airport is based on the European side of Istanbul. I know some Istanbulites can be sensitive to this. I recall one business meeting I had there where my Turkish counterpart stressed the point that he lives in Europe, not Asia. One of the things that makes Istanbul so great as Ben indicates is how its a confluence of cultures quite literally on the border of two continents.

  5. Fun list! I would indeed like to see a favorite brands by region post as well to see your thoughts especially on European, African and Americas airlines. I would suspect in the Americas that some smaller airlines like Air North and Hawaiian would make the list!

  6. Why would Ben need to apologize for speaking the truth? The world’s best airlines are based in Asia and even the best hotels in terms of service beyond are probably primarily in Asia as well. For Asian carriers rank best in service and style as well as professionalism and product. I would say historically and culturally Turkey would be more Asian than European.

  7. My list would definitely include Air New Zealand. One of the most fun and creative airlines I’ve ever flown in (and I’ve flown Air NZ in all cabins economy/prem econ/business.) Overall when I see its brand and safety video I can’t help but smile.

    Back in the 90s when I was a kid, I would have added Delta Airlines simply because of Dusty the Air Lion. I really wish the US airlines would focus again on marketing to kids. I mean Delta even had a drink called pawberry punch that’s geared towards kids (but yes adults can order them too.)

    I agree with most of the airlines in your list Lucky, especially EK, SQ, TK, NH. I would also add EVA air because of their Hello Kitty airline venture.

  8. I’m surprised Air France didn’t make the list at all.

    But hard to argue when these airlines are the competitors. Personally I love Taiwan’s culture, so BR and JX are both on my list, in addition to CX, TK and NH.

  9. Yeah I was surprised your Premier experience didn’t get AF onto here. I also know it’s been a while since you had a phenomenal LH experience, but was surprised not to see you give your German routes some love!

    Fun list though. Emirates and Etihad are on another level with their marketing and sponsorships around the world – especially with sports.

  10. I’m most surprised that Lufthansa didn’t make the list as well.

    EVA and Thai are probably the two airlines most special to me, and maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome at SFO but I’d even put United Airlines on my list!

  11. Fun list. I am always surprised to see Emirates brand everywhere, even in countries they don’t fly.

  12. I get Turkish as top ten but number 1? Most of the planes don’t have direct aisle access and as a (usually) single travel that brings them way down for me –same with Emirates.

  13. I wouldn’t call it one of the most-elite airlines in the world, but Finnair has a special place in my heart. Its A350s are particularly comfortable (with reverse herringbones in business), Helsinki is a dream to transit no matter the class of service, and the soft product reflects Finnish/Nordic culture (whether that be the saunas in the lounge, the Marimekko-branded amenity kits and bed sets, the icicle-themed glassware, the blueberry juice)… plus there’s something really exciting about flying to/from Asia via “the Polar route.”

  14. Qantas has to be on the list of best brands. Instantly recognizable, unique, a stories history,and illicits only positive feelings… everybody loves Australia! Oh, and Qantas never crashed. Definitely not.

    I’ll pass on the gaudy ME flag carriers representing oppressive regimes with ideals that would make a woke millennial lose control of their bowels.

  15. I’m surprised TK is on top of list, agree catering is great but liquors and wine selection mediocre in J class. And only their 787 business class seats seem to be of interest with full aisle access.

    Surprised Singapore not ranked higher and the exclusion of Lufthansa, Swiss International, Qantas, Air NZ not in list.

  16. I had fantastic flights on Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Thai, Cathay and Qantas.
    Oman Air I have only flown twice, once in Y and once in J and both trips were ok, but nothing that special. Qatar is really great in the air but beware if things go wrong on the ground! Not much fun.

    Pre-pandemic I used to fly quite a bit in Europe and actually enjoyed flying with BA and Easyjet! Good service and very competitive prices compared to LX or LH.

  17. While Emirates and Singapore were total disappointments in our experience in Business, ANA was a delight to fly and the best we have experienced from the above list. JL & OZ were great too and much better than most above but you did not mention them!

    Flew ANA last month, and despite of Covid there was no compromise in excellent quality, service, or amenities: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kalboz/albums/72157718207838918

  18. I like Ben’s list and don’t really have qualms with any of his selections. If I had to add some “honorable mentions” though, I would suggest:

    EVA: One of the best in-flight business class services and IMO the best trans-pacific business class. The Hello Kitty planes have been great marketing and brand building too.

    Air New Zealand: Reasons listed above by @Joey. A consistently and surprisingly innovative small international carrier. A very early adopter of all-aisle access business class, solid soft product, set the trend for creative safety videos etc.

    Ryanair: As much as many hate Ryanair’s feisty reputation and poor customer service, it has been truly disruptive and transformational not only to the European airline industry but to travel as a whole. Ryanair made travel across Europe much more accessible and has been a major influence in a more connected and integrated Europe. Whether you like it or not, the brand name has become synonymous to a whole new age of travel.

  19. Qatar? When I think of Qatar today, I think of the strip searches of Australian women last October no longer the elegance and sophistication of their Q Suites or their great hub at Doha. Their brand has been irreparably damaged IMO. The rest of the list is solid. It will be interesting to see how premium air travel changes post COVID.

  20. I would concur with you Ben, with the exception of not adding EVA Air to the mix. Everything else is actually on point in my opinion, regardless of a country’s politics, since we are talking about the BEST airline brands in the world and NOT best brands of political regimes in the world!

    A regional list of airlines would be good too!

  21. China Eastern had the worst food i have ever had in Biz class !!It was not edible . We were not given a menu as staff said it was in Chinese so they ordered for us. horrid…

  22. TK out of IST-MEX was incredible in J – food was tops when compared to LH First Class. Just wondering if you or anyone else has heard when full J catering and their onboard chef will return rather than a simple cold box meal?

  23. Emirates? It’s essentially bling. Their service on the ground is average and their first class lounge when transferring is big and soulless – you could fire a canon and miss everyone and in my view it has the worst shower suites I’ve come across. Why bother with a sauna, just use one of those shower units.

  24. These airlines are some of the finest in the world. I would add British Airways, Virgin and Air New Zealand on the list of some of the world’s finest airlines.

  25. @SAS – I’m not sure I agree with you regarding British Airways. They might be recognizable but they have been in a race to the bottom for many years now. It is a truly dreadful airline and I avoid them at all costs. I’d rather fly a route with a stop on TK or QR than a direct flight on BA. My no 1 is QR followed by TK.

  26. @Paco, you do realise that Finnair flies to Asia in the exact same corridors as most European airlines?

    Of course it does say a lot about the power of AY’s branding that they can make passengers believe that they fly a special routing.

  27. @The Original Donna,
    Not sure why you are linking the airline with the screwup by the airport security. By your logic, I guess you must also dislike Cathay Pacific because of the nefarious things the Chinese government does…Or Turkish Airways for the over reaching of the government there (I’m sure many in Cyprus would consider Turkey’s actions a form of invasiveness too).

  28. I’m glad Lufthansa didn’t make the list. I’ve flown them for decades and I’ve become increasingly disappointed with the poor service, poor food and high prices. Unfortunately for me (an American living in Germany no where near Frankfurt) it is the primary airline here for local and international flights.

  29. Cathay without any doubt is a great airline, but that is useless if i want to travel with them for example from Taipeh to Moscow .
    Taiwanese citizens will be included in Russias e-visa sheme and would love to use Hongkong for the trip !
    Still, Cathay does not consider flying to there .
    Then you have SIA which even at the moment flies nearly daily with their newish A359 to Moscow .
    Obviously some airlines are more up to the task than the others …

  30. Favorite (first paragraph) obviously isn’t the same as best (headline). That said, I’ll look at this list as a list of Ben’s favorites and it closely aligns with my views. I’d really like to see a list based on the views of the average paying customer.

  31. Frankly I don’t know why Cathay is on the list, no offense but as a Hong Konger we can clearly see Cathay is not what it used to be anymore. There you have a management who are more interested in financial speculation (derviates) than innovate their product and services.

    All I saw in the past 10 years are meal services getting smaller and smaller, seats (including business class) are torn and lacking a new touch. Their app crashes so much that it look US Airline look good. And don’t get me started on that Marco Polo club membership fiasco a few years back. Oh, and that decision of sacking Pennisula Group as their Hong Kong lounge operator is just genius in terms of taking that prestigiousness leaving Cathay. But hey, they are still the most expensive business class ticket out of Hong Kong. It’s so ridiculous that it would be cheaper to buy a Cathay business class ticket from Taiwan to a US or Europe port than one direct flight out of Hong Kong.

  32. @Marco You beat me to it. Anyone who still thinks Cathay Pacific is a top airline is either fooled by the mirage of its past success or is detached (or outright indifferent) from recent events.

    As a fellow Hong Konger, born and raised in colonial Hong Kong, the decline of Cathay Pacific in particular, and the decline of new Hong Kong in general under ever-tightening Communist Chinese control, is painful to watch.

  33. Sadly I’m done and over with Qatar. They eliminated lounge access for R tickets, and refused us to reissue a ticket to my original destination on the voucher I held, despite written assurances that I wouldn’t have to worry about any price difference. The quote I got was 4000$ higher than what I originally paid. Plenty of bizarre unilateral moves when you would expect them to want to hold onto premium customers. I always liked their qsuites hard product, the soft product was reliably lacklustre (eg the food quality, chaos during boarding).

  34. @Chris – I flew with British Airways from the USA to India and back in 2014 and LOVED the experience after a hiatus of a decade. I would fly British Airways again if I could.

  35. @David: Agree, I do think the element of Frenchness AF put anywhere on their experience deserve the spot on the list, even their safety video is iconic and very AF

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