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 a 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 products, the world’s best business class lounges, 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 some airlines haven’t recovered from the pandemic at the same pace, and I haven’t necessarily fully factored 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 that keeps getting better, 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. Whether you’re flying in long haul first class or short haul business class, Singapore Airlines nails it.

Singapore Airlines A380 Suites first class

Starlux Airlines

How could an airline startup with under 20 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. Now that the airline has taken delivery of Airbus A350s, it’ll start operating long haul routes, with a Taipei to Los Angeles route launching in April. The carrier’s A350 first & business class look interesting. If only the pricing were a bit lower, and/or there were a way to redeem miles…

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. I’m thrilled to see that Hong Kong has finally reopened its borders, and I’m excited to hopefully visit soon. Here’s to hoping that Hong Kong isn’t totally different than it was pre-pandemic and pre-riots.

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, 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. I’m excited to see Japan Airlines’ new premium cabins on A350-1000s, debuting later this year.

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?

Conversations (42)
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  1. simmonad Guest

    I'm with you regarding Emirates' 777 business class offering. Seven abreast and angled seating: seriously??

  2. Carrie Gold

    Consistency is what elevates an airline for me (and I do not mean consistently 'poor') and that is why Singapore will always trump over Emirates and other noted airlines.

  3. Steve Guest

    TK has a weak product in business class, why would you rank them at the top, everyone knows QR and NH has the best business class on the market,SQ also lacking , I follow you but god pls have some common sense

    1. David Guest

      He gave a laundry list of reasons why he included TK on the list. Maybe I'm confused but I don't think he ranked them from 1st to 9th.

  4. Eskimo Guest

    This is a very stupid topic. Why is anyone bother arguing.

    This is just like ranking the best state, best president, best artist, best picture.
    You need a topic or criteria to rank. Each argument is ranking based on a different topic.

    Just like arguing that Top Gun Maverick is the best picture because Tom has the highest Theta ranking. WTF!!!!

    Stupid topic and y'all took the bait.

    1. Max Guest

      Best state: El Salvador. They have introduced the Bitcoin standard and reject all the work bs that is spreading like cancer in most other states. Also one of the safest states now.

      Best president: Nayib Bukele. No other president has such an impressive track record in regards to tackling serious issues. Massive reduction in violent crime.

      No contest in regards to these two questions.

    2. David Guest

      I personally enjoy reading his take. Fun playful disagreements are also ok. When people take it too serious is when there's a problem. Why people get offended is beyond my comprehension.

  5. Kris Guest

    You clearly havent had to deal with TK or QR´s ground staff or call centers? Q suites and great F&B can make up for a lot of things, but not the total inability handle IRROPS or booking issues. It is after all an airline whitch core business is getting poeple from A to B.
    Not on my list.

    1. Derek H Guest

      I have to agree. QR's ground staff is so atrocious in every regard. From their knowledge, down to their beavhior and attitude. Never have I met a more cumbersome staff who is downright rude, ignorant, and dismissive.

      I feel like QR shored up its on-board staff very well, but the ground staff was an after thought. They went out and hired from cheap locales and Indian call centers.

      Pray you never have any issues with QR where you need to contact anyone.

  6. tom Guest

    Yeah..I would definitely replace Starlux with Virgin Atlantic. The former hasn't been around long enough. That said, I would place PanAm into the category of "best legacy carrier of icons who have died" category.

  7. crosscourt Guest

    Mmmm Emirates and it's damaged brand for misleading advertising. Qatar for the awful cramped "tunnel" when the seat is opened to a bed and it all feel so claustrophobic.

  8. Creditcrunch Diamond

    For me
    1. Singapore Airlines
    2. Virgin Atlantic
    3. Emirates
    4. Cathay Pacific
    5. British Airways

  9. Adam Auxier Guest

    All of my best flights have been on Air France and Singapore. Both get high honors from me for how well they treated my children on board as well.

    1. adam Guest

      Also, the only airline I might consider adding is FINNAIR. They are the second-best Euro airline in my opinion after AF.

    1. David Diamond

      I reckon it was a close one, 11th on the list.

    2. David Guest

      That was a good one. Love it.

  10. Ivan Guest

    I’m obsessed with Starlux as well Ben! Are you still planning on booking a long haul flight with them soon despite their prices & lack of mile redemption? Would love to see an a350 business class report from you.

  11. Chris Guest

    I loved flying Turkish business class but I don’t think it’s a good brand. Meanwhile, I avoid United even I’m a hub captive but have to admit United has a great brand - better than AA or DL. Besides the brand and the route network, United doesn’t have much going for it.

    1. Steven E Guest

      Who even mentioned United

  12. Santos Guest

    I sat amongst some coworkers during after-work drinks a month or so ago and listened in on their convo about best airlines. These are all young professionals (mid to late 20s) in NYC; none of them knew I was big into miles/points. Some choice quotes that I was texting to my brother in real time:

    • "Emirates is hands down the best airline in the world" (pronounced this as "em-ur-ah-tees")
    • "Where is that...

    I sat amongst some coworkers during after-work drinks a month or so ago and listened in on their convo about best airlines. These are all young professionals (mid to late 20s) in NYC; none of them knew I was big into miles/points. Some choice quotes that I was texting to my brother in real time:

    • "Emirates is hands down the best airline in the world" (pronounced this as "em-ur-ah-tees")
    • "Where is that airline from anyway?" (no one had an answer, had to google it)
    • "Virgin Atlantic has, like, the best first class on planet Earth"
    • "I will always fly United, they serve you like champagne and caviar in business class"
    • "JetBlue has beds on all their planes now and they fly to Paris but it costs like ten thousand dollars"

    Fun stuff.

  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 been a LOT longer than the past couple of decades; their reputation has been stellar for many many decades, not just in the 2000s.

    Yes, I'm extremely old.

  14. NedsKid Diamond

    Ben,
    I'm gonna throw one out there I know you're familiar with... they definitely have recognition, a somewhat unique product, and do cause polarized reactions:

    Spirit Airlines

    1. BigTee New Member

      I flew Spirit about a decade ago. At the gate, I paid about forty bucks for an upgrade at the gate for its Big Front Seat. It was alright; couldn't complain. Were I to feel in a down-market mood (as is my consumer right in a competitive capitalist market,) I might fly Spirit again.

  15. Jan Guest

    Notable omissions include Lufthansa, the world's only 6 star airline, and United, which according to its own CEO Scott Kirby, is the best airline in the world.

  16. DenB Diamond

    I've flown CX F 777 longhaul, CX J 777 longhaul and BR 777 longhaul. Obviously Cathay Pacific's pre-pandemic First Class (I flew HKG-JFK and on another occasion HKG-BKK) was my best flight ever. But comparing their 777 Business class, I rank EVA's significantly above Cathay Pacific's, for soft product. Their 777s are physically identical with same seat type. But the inflight experience on EVA is measurably better in tangible ways. I expect nearly everyone who's...

    I've flown CX F 777 longhaul, CX J 777 longhaul and BR 777 longhaul. Obviously Cathay Pacific's pre-pandemic First Class (I flew HKG-JFK and on another occasion HKG-BKK) was my best flight ever. But comparing their 777 Business class, I rank EVA's significantly above Cathay Pacific's, for soft product. Their 777s are physically identical with same seat type. But the inflight experience on EVA is measurably better in tangible ways. I expect nearly everyone who's done both will agree.

    1. IrishAlan Diamond

      I agree! EVA is overall my favorite carrier in the world based on several incredible experiences and would have to be on my list. Their J hard and soft products are far preferable to CX in my experience too. I have to admit their lounges at TPE are a bit mediocre though.

  17. Arie Guest

    Turkish was on my list too, until recently when it charged me twice for the same ticket and is so far refusing to refund the extra charge. It has the worst customer service line I've ever experienced. Shame because it really is good on so many levels but stealing is inexcusable

    1. pstm91 Diamond

      This a YMMV thing. Some airlines are certainly known for their crappy customer service, but I don't think TK is one of them. I think you had bad luck. I had an issue with my tickets when I last flew them (end of 2022) and it was resolved quickly and efficiently with one phone call. I was very impressed. Again, I think any time you're dealing with a customer service team, YMMV. TK definitely belongs on this list.

    2. Arie Guest

      Possibly but it is still ongoing so mt mileage is varying low over several months. It's a long story and involves multiple calls and emails , always with a different person and so far a big waste of time. I finally called amex and told them Turkish defrauded me. Amex refunded me the money right away and is now contacting turkish about this. Lots of kudos to amex for their customer support!

  18. Brand Guest

    British Airways actually revolutionised business class 20 years ago when they introduced flat beds in Club World.
    The brand has suffered over the years due to spending cuts but let’s not try and re-write history!

    1. Hiro Diamond

      True, it was ground breaking when not many airlines even offered full flat bed in first class! The British carriers revolutionized the business class seat back then - Virgin Atlantic also introduced the world's first angled-flat bed, followed by herringbone seats.

  19. Anon Member

    Oman Air's boarding music is "My Heart Will Go On" aka Titanic Theme tweaked. Not a very auspicious association when you think about it.

    1. Unhoeflich Diamond

      It reminds me of years ago when Air Canada's seatback maps marked the locations of where ships were lost at sea. Cripes!

  20. vlcnc Guest

    The only one I object to personally is Emirates, mainly because as you say the branding nowadays is just that and not reflected in the experience anymore. They did change commercial aviation though when they really started to grow and made the competition up their game. But I guess it's successful as brand.

    1. Tom Guest

      Fine with Emirates, they are clearly one of the strongest brands in aviation. I think Cathay's brand might be the one that is too tarnished to belong here now. I think maybe Virgin Atlantic or Etihad are potential replacements.

    2. Airfarer Diamond

      Good call. I'd be happy with Virgin. I flew TATL with them yesterday which made me silver. Consistently decent service, nice new suites, and acceptable food.

    3. TravelinWilly Diamond

      "I think Cathay's brand might be the one that is too tarnished to belong here now."

      Hit the nail on the head.

      Hong Kong is a destination that is tarnished as well.

    4. BigTee Guest

      I really really wanted to try Cathay the past few years, just like Aeroflot; but, isn't flying into Hong Kong as risky as flying into Moscow, these days? I need further assurances about my safety and privacy in Hong Kong. I sure wish Cathay had a 5th freedom flight.

    5. Peking Duck Guest

      Um, no. Flying into Hong Kong right now is not as risky as flying into Moscow.

    6. Greg Guest

      Ben I don't have anything to add except you are spot on. I had created my list and then read yours. You know your stuff and I love your descriptions and reasons why they are top. Fun post

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Santos Guest

I sat amongst some coworkers during after-work drinks a month or so ago and listened in on their convo about best airlines. These are all young professionals (mid to late 20s) in NYC; none of them knew I was big into miles/points. Some choice quotes that I was texting to my brother in real time: • "Emirates is hands down the best airline in the world" (pronounced this as "em-ur-ah-tees") • "Where is that airline from anyway?" (no one had an answer, had to google it) • "Virgin Atlantic has, like, the best first class on planet Earth" • "I will always fly United, they serve you like champagne and caviar in business class" • "JetBlue has beds on all their planes now and they fly to Paris but it costs like ten thousand dollars" Fun stuff.

4
Anon Member

Oman Air's boarding music is "My Heart Will Go On" aka Titanic Theme tweaked. Not a very auspicious association when you think about it.

3
KK13 Diamond

I would put JAL or EVA over Oman

2
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