What Are The World’s Best Airline Brands?

What Are The World’s Best Airline Brands?

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In this post I wanted to share an updated list of my favorite airline brands in the world. I think this is a fun topic, and I’m curious to hear how my preferences compare to those of fellow aviation geeks.

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 nine 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 two airlines are based in Asia; perhaps I should make a separate list with my favorite airline brand from each continent
  • Admittedly the pandemic has changed some aspects of airlines (at least temporarily), so I won’t be fully factoring that in here
  • Let’s leave politics out of this, please

Below 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. 😉

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 airline 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

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 the 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. Unfortunately I fear that my love affair may be coming to an end, and that Hong Kong and Cathay Pacific may never be the same. That makes me really sad.

Cathay Pacific 777 first class

Air France

I love Air France — part of it is emotional, and part of it is rational, I think. For one, there’s no denying that the French excel at food, wine, fashion, and confidence, so there’s some halo effect that Air France benefits from there. I love Air France’s marketing, and even the safety video (especially the previous one) is oh-so-fun. Why should you not smoke on a plane? Well, because it’s not chic, of course!

But even beyond that, Air France has a lot going for it, and the airline gets better by the day. If you visit the Air France Lounge Toronto or fly an Air France A321, you probably won’t be impressed. But Air France has the world’s best first class lounge, one of the world’s best inflight first class products, and the airline keeps improving.

Air France is introducing a new business class with doors, a new first class product, the airline is refreshing many of its lounges, and Air France is refreshing its short haul fleet with A220s, which are a joy to fly (you won’t find any of those at British Airways or Lufthansa). Air France is trending upwards among European carriers, in my opinion.

Air France 777 La Premiere first 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… too bad the country continues to remain closed to most visitors.

ANA 777 business 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

Bottom line

Any sort of airline ranking is inherently subjective, since we’re all looking for different things. That’s even more true when we’re talking about perception of airline brands, which involves some intangible elements. As you can hopefully see, 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 OMAAT readers — what are your favorite airline brands?

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  1. Jason Brandt Lewis Guest

    And then there are those of us who may only fly overseas (i.e.: outside the U.S.) once or perhaps twice a year, and so Ben's list is mostly (if not completely) aspirational: nice to read/dream about, but in nearly all other ways, useless.

    (I fly some 30-40 flights a year, with all but 5-6 of those being within the US. Typically I fly in either Business or whatever the specific airline is calling their...

    And then there are those of us who may only fly overseas (i.e.: outside the U.S.) once or perhaps twice a year, and so Ben's list is mostly (if not completely) aspirational: nice to read/dream about, but in nearly all other ways, useless.

    (I fly some 30-40 flights a year, with all but 5-6 of those being within the US. Typically I fly in either Business or whatever the specific airline is calling their "Premium Economy" or "Main Cabin Select" -- extra legroom, theoretically upgraded level of service, etc.)

  2. Tom Guest

    Virgin Atlantic should have been included. They certainly have a more widely established brand unique "brand" than upstart carriers like Starlux. I would actually put them at the top of the list..not necessarily because they are exceptional..but because of the original brand they established.

  3. WorldTravelerPlus Guest

    I consider the long haul airlines based in Japan to be similar to the long haul carriers based in Britain. On one hand, you have the legacy carriers (BA and JAL, and both are in OneWorld) who serve more destinations and have a similar brand. However, you have the upstarts (Virgin Atlantic and ANA) who have a edgier, younger branding. The upstart carriers are said to have better amenities and service, however do not fly to as many destinations.

    1. KATA Member

      ANA is the younger company (by one year), but it is larger and flies to more places than JAL. JAL used to be a very large and international airline, but it hasn't been the same since its 2007 bankruptcy.

  4. Arbee Guest

    My own experience with Air France has been awful. Last time I flew business class with them from India to Paris they blocked off one restroom for crew use only so that 30+ business passengers had to use one restroom on that long flight. No apologies. What f**ing French arrogance.

    1. khatl Guest

      30 biz class people have to use just one bathroom. That's almost as bad as economy . AF would make my list of best, but I can't separate it from CDG which never ceases to disappoint me.

  5. Barry Guest

    Sadly SQ quality has suffered badly in economy and business class due to cutbacks that haven’t been reversed

  6. Steven E Guest

    Sorry Ben “All but two are based in Asia” aren’t QR EK AF WY either in the Middle East or Europe,? I’m confused

    1. EK_engineer Guest

      @Steven E

      Asia is massive and sprawls all the way from the Japanese islands through to Turkey. The Middle East is a sub-region of Asia, just like South-East Asia (Indonesia/Malaysia/Thailand etc) and South Asia (India/Pakistan/Bangladesh etc) are also sub-regions of Asia.

    2. Geographer Guest

      Steven...exactly what continent did you think the Middle East was in?

    3. Musze Guest

      not sure confused is the right word there, maybe uneducated.

  7. Sam Guest

    Ben, If they would do away with the 2-3-2 angle flats on the 777's, I would say your good to go with TK as #1. Otherwise, locator flights to get the better seats knock them down a peg or IMHO.
    Looking forward to flying the new flight from SEA in the 787 :-)

  8. Steven M Jacoby Guest

    I would be hard-pressed to find a worse airline than Turkish. They were great for student flights in 1972. Our 2012 trip to Turkey included our outgoing flight with heat pouring out of the vent next to our bulkhead seats. They didn't care. On a 2019 trip to Egypt, we flew Turkish from DC, then connected to EgyptAir. Turkish was unresponsive to any question or request, be it by phone or in person. They just...

    I would be hard-pressed to find a worse airline than Turkish. They were great for student flights in 1972. Our 2012 trip to Turkey included our outgoing flight with heat pouring out of the vent next to our bulkhead seats. They didn't care. On a 2019 trip to Egypt, we flew Turkish from DC, then connected to EgyptAir. Turkish was unresponsive to any question or request, be it by phone or in person. They just don't care. But I will say that their Business Class lounge at IAD is excellent.

  9. Ron Erday Guest

    I love flying Turkish business class, but the way they handle the crowd at their gate is terrible

    1. ps241 Guest

      Yes, you have identified the weak point in the Turkish Airlines experience. At least at the old Istanbul airport, the disorganization and the crush of people in the boarding area could be terrible, and it wasn't any different if you were in business class. It was even worse when it was bus-boarding to a remote gate. Turkish Airlines seemed to have given zero thought to this. Is it any better at the new Istanbul airport?

  10. Tim Dunn Diamond

    The value of a brand - any brand - is defined by the ability to generate profits and in the value of the company.
    The two most valuable airlines in the world based on market capitalization - what investors are willing to put their money into - is Delta and Southwest; they have consistently run neck in neck at the top of the global airline industry in valuation.
    Delta has been the most...

    The value of a brand - any brand - is defined by the ability to generate profits and in the value of the company.
    The two most valuable airlines in the world based on market capitalization - what investors are willing to put their money into - is Delta and Southwest; they have consistently run neck in neck at the top of the global airline industry in valuation.
    Delta has been the most profitable global airline for at least the past 20 years.

    You can say what you think have the best products but that is not the definition of value and is only a small part of what "best" means.

    1. Sam Guest

      As customers (not shareholders) people find value in other things besides market value. It's like... Subjective. I fly DL a ton but wouldn't put them above any on Ben's list. You gotta be able to think outside of your wallet Homey.

    2. Tim Dunn Diamond

      Actually, financial metrics are not subjective but pretty clear cut across companies - finance is like math which is a universal language. Customer experience and perception of quality IS subjective.
      I totally get that this is a customer experience related website and not about financial aspects of a company but the word "best" has to be qualified to note that achieving one metric might exclude success in another.
      and, unless governments poor money...

      Actually, financial metrics are not subjective but pretty clear cut across companies - finance is like math which is a universal language. Customer experience and perception of quality IS subjective.
      I totally get that this is a customer experience related website and not about financial aspects of a company but the word "best" has to be qualified to note that achieving one metric might exclude success in another.
      and, unless governments poor money into airlines, if a company is not profitable at levels comparable to international investments, they will not be sustainable long-term.

      And I would argue that AA and DL have the most consistent hard product for business class across their widebody fleets while a number of other airlines - some of which have been noted here - do not even have direct aisle access for every business class seat.
      Add in that many airlines on this list are from countries that have poor human rights track records and I always question westerners that push airlines where workers are forced to retire when they no longer are as sexy as they once were.
      And let's not even talk about how gay friendly airlines are, esp. to employees. Many of these airlines are very hostile to LGBTQ employees. Western European and even more so US airlines are by far the most LGBTQ friendly including to their employees.

      So, define "best" as you see fit. Just recognize there are multiple ways to define it and attaining one metric - esp. one that is qualitative - doesn't mean much if it comes at the cost of something else, esp. one that is quantitative.

    3. Ray Gold

      How about you create your own list based on your criteria and see how many agree with the rankings. I am guessing you get laughed at and I would love to read the comments.

    4. khatl Guest

      Delta and Southwest are definitely some of the best run and managed airlines in the world. And I think Delta's customer service for elites is amazing. And I'd be happy to own stock in both as I think they're significantly better managed businesses than other US airlines. All that said, they'd never make my list of top airline brands. Virgin, Qatar and ANA do. Not a fan of either Emirates, Sing or Cathay.

  11. JW Guest

    Interesting that you rate Oman air higher than Japan Airlines. Having tried both, I cannot but wonder why JAL is behind Oman.

  12. Greg Guest

    Fun post!

    The only issue I have with the list I that most of the airlines you listed are located in countries that have poor human rights and environmental policies (2 Chinese airlines, and 3 Middle Eastern)

    For that reason I would add Lufthansa and Swiss as top airlines who have great first class services and come from more ethically located regions.

    However I say this as I absolutely enjoy the top products of...

    Fun post!

    The only issue I have with the list I that most of the airlines you listed are located in countries that have poor human rights and environmental policies (2 Chinese airlines, and 3 Middle Eastern)

    For that reason I would add Lufthansa and Swiss as top airlines who have great first class services and come from more ethically located regions.

    However I say this as I absolutely enjoy the top products of all the airlines that you list except Starlux whom I haven't yet tried.

    1. David Diamond

      Taiwan has poor human rights issues? That's news to me.

    2. Eve Guest

      1) for the OP, Singapore Airlines is from Singapore!! WHICH IS NOT CHINA. And Starlux is from Taiwab, WHICH IS ALSO LOGICALLY SPEAKING NOT CHINA!!! And human rights + environmental issue in both Singapore and Taiwan? That is just NEWS to me
      2) For the other comment, Cathay Pacific is Hong Kong, which at this point is fair to say is China

    3. Lee Guest

      @eve Please Google Migrant workers in Singapore and look up how they are treated in Singapore. Then check on how the Filipina OFWs are treated in Singapore. Things are often very different on the ground.

    4. Speed Guest

      Then you have an issue with ‘human rights and environmental policies’ why are you flying these airlines? Sorry but if you going to be critical then practice what you preach

    5. Razzak Memon Guest

      Greg, Being from Abbotabad Pakistan myself I can tell you that the worst human rights is here in the USA.

    6. Smic8881 Guest

      Yet, you live in the US?

    7. Unhoeflich Diamond

      Starlux is from Taiwan. Taiwan is not China!

  13. TravelinWilly Diamond

    “Singapore Airlines has been considered to be one of the best airlines in the world for the past couple of decades..,”

    Actually it’s more like the last five decades.

    I know I’m dating myself here, but before everyone and their mothers started circumnavigating the globe, SQ was *the* airline to fly for travelers to and from Asia.

  14. Stuart Guest

    Strikes me more that these are particular brands that strike you rather than actual brand recognition. BA is a global brand with a huge presence as an example. May not like them but still, recognizable around the globe. Virgin may not be as global but still has a vibe that people recognize right away. And in the Americas, no doubt that ol’ Herb did a great job with WN and the brand still lives his vision.

    1. reddargon Diamond

      "Strikes me more that these are particular brands that strike you rather than actual brand recognition."

      Yes, that was the point of his post. It helps to read from the beginning: "In this post I wanted to share an updated list of my favorite airline brands in the world. I think this is a fun topic, and I’m curious to hear how my preferences compare to those of fellow aviation geeks."

  15. Aman Guest

    I would think Virgin Atlantic is one of the strongest airline brands in the world. It’s distinctive, quirky and friendly and I love the way it is reflected across all touch points- from the website, cabin crew, lounges, aircraft interiors, even their tableware. Personally it is My favourite airline brand in the world even if it isn’t my favourite airline.

    KLM is another super strong brand- the house blue colors evoke a sense of...

    I would think Virgin Atlantic is one of the strongest airline brands in the world. It’s distinctive, quirky and friendly and I love the way it is reflected across all touch points- from the website, cabin crew, lounges, aircraft interiors, even their tableware. Personally it is My favourite airline brand in the world even if it isn’t my favourite airline.

    KLM is another super strong brand- the house blue colors evoke a sense of richness and is so distinctive. I love the way they have incorporated the Dutch touch in everything they do- not to mention the ceramic houses. Even the crew has a self-assured vibe with a dry sense of humour which is so oh so Dutch.

    I also think Qantas and Air New Zealand do a great job with their branding balancing their local countries with a very slick and modern vibe.

    Personally, I have never been a big fan of Qatar and SIA. Both seem a bit traditional to me- even though they are great airlines, perhaps better then the names mentioned above.

    Evaluating branding is very subjective.

  16. Alec Guest

    You should try to find the net promotor score (NPS) for these airlines and see how they rank with the general population

  17. Razzak Memon Guest

    American Airlines is easily in the Top Three. Otherwise its spot on.
    PS. I am a CK and my wife is also a CK.

  18. John Guest

    Hi Ben,
    Slight correction, not sure if you wanted to include another European airline (luxair? , Swiss?) but you listed only one non-asian airline (Air France) as Qatar, Japan, Singapore, UAE, Taiwan, Turkey, HK, Oman are all Asian countries

    1. Too Much Travel Guest

      Why would Ben want to include another European airline? I didn't know that there needs to be some geographical quota system on OMAAT! European airlines are generally weak... there's no need for politically correct "oh, you tried so hard that we'll offer you a token award". If Ben thinks that European airlines other than Air France don't make the grade, then they don't deserve to be on his list.

    2. Eve Guest

      I would say Finnair is a fairly competitive airline which is overlooked quite a lot. It does have the best Business Class product in the European market right now with the weird new A350 seats it recently launched, which they are gonna even retrofit in all its existing long haul fleet

    3. John Guest

      He started with all airlines but two are located in Asia. So I was wondering if he forgot a paragraph. That's it. Nothing political.

    4. Mike C Diamond

      Turkish Airlines is firmly based at a hub in Europe even though most of the country is in Asia.

    5. John Guest

      Turkey is 97% in Asia and 3% in Europe.
      Calling it non Asian is a long stretch and culturally insentive to Turkish people.

  19. sean Guest

    white people and the time they have on their guilty hands….,

  20. Ian Guest

    Cool list, thanks Ben.
    Not a criticism at all but it’s interesting to note that, out of those 10 airlines, only 3 come from high-ranked countries in freedom indices.
    Greatest dilemma for me would be whether to fly with Qatar… The AV geek says yes, the world citizen says no. I fear I would not be able to resist temptation, hoping you can make a distinction between the airline & it’s staffs and the country itself.

    1. Jade Guest

      Unfortunately there is no world citizen, you're from your country (or maybe a few more if you have multiple nationalities) and it's already a lot. It would be better to keep your activism out of this amazing blog as it has nothing to do here.

  21. SJC New Member

    It is all right, Lucky. I am very sure that most readers will agree with my statement that there’s no need to clarify or apologize for selecting all but two Asian based airlines as the best airline brands in the world. It is true that Asian carriers are simply just better or even the best in many aspects such as better airplanes, better seats, better service, better lounges, better food/drinks, better IFE/Wi-Fi, etc.

    1. Ivan X Guest

      Where is Allegiant on this list?

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

David Diamond

Taiwan has poor human rights issues? That's news to me.

5
Mike C Diamond

Turkish Airlines is firmly based at a hub in Europe even though most of the country is in Asia.

3
reddargon Diamond

"Strikes me more that these are particular brands that strike you rather than actual brand recognition." Yes, that was the point of his post. It helps to read from the beginning: "In this post I wanted to share an updated list of my favorite airline brands in the world. I think this is a fun topic, and I’m curious to hear how my preferences compare to those of fellow aviation geeks."

3
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