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Who’s the best (and worst) airline?

Regular passengers on commercial aircraft tend to have a favourite amongst the many carriers.

Regular passengers on commercial aircraft tend to have a favourite amongst the many carriers. Just like some people will always buy a BMW instead of a Mercedes so some are avowed British Airways fans and wouldn’t choose to fly on Virgin Atlantic. Since we can take it as a given that both airlines (and indeed both cars) are safe, comfortable and of high quality, the difference in individual choice is therefore often highly subjective and probably related to personal experience of specific flights or circumstances.

A flight might be made special by a particularly friendly and courteous crew, your favourite movies being shown or an unexpected upgrade to first class where you sit next to Gisele Bündchen who immediately becomes your new girlfriend. In short, most commercial airlines tend to do the same thing: they take off, land safely and try to keep you as happy as possible during the middle bit.

Based on personal experience (and I know others in Skyscanner will disagree), I am unafraid to make the following huge, sweeping and probably inaccurate, libellous generalisations. I think the following: Qantas crews are very friendly; Virgin Atlantic get the closest to making flying fun; female flight attendants on American Airlines are moonlighting school matrons whilst those on South African Airways are moonlighting models; in my experience, the food on Olympic Airlines is not very good, but extremely nice on Singapore Airlines; I would most like to be on a British Airways flight if something awful happened (wings falling off etc.) and finally, I hate, with unbridled passion, an anonymous low-cost airline who kept me waiting 10 hours whilst six of their flights left for my destination and made me miss a wedding. I regularly wish bankruptcy upon them.

That said, there are a lot of excellent carriers out there but before looking at who is the best, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website is good enough to provide a long list of airlines who are not allowed to fly anywhere near us (under Regulation (EC) No. 2111/2005) and who, in the words of the CAA, are “considered to be unsafe and … therefore not permitted to fly passengers or cargo in the EU or operate within European airspace.”

Details of their criteria for imposing restrictions are not given but one can only assume that inappropriate and silly names (at least to an English speaker) is one of the reasons. Who wouldn’t want to fly Bel Glob Airlines out of the Democratic Republic of Congo? I know I would – just to frame my ticket stub. The self-congratulatory Bravo Air Congo (“Bravo, we can’t land in the EU again”) would be another of my choices. Or maybe I would go for Comair and ask to sit between Nicholas Cage and Steve Buscemi. Free Airlines sounds extremely promising and how could you do better than travel with the reassuringly titled Safe Air Company?

Airlines such as these are unlikely to ever make it into the listings at www.airlinequality.com. This website is run by Skytrax who are “the world’s leading air transport research organisation, specialising in global Airline and Airport customer surveys.” The site features comments on over 500 airlines and airports and there is easy access to nearly a quarter of a million customer opinions.

In 2007, Skytrax received over 14 million nominations in a global online survey and just some of the results are shown below:

Airline of the Year 2007

Rank Airline 2006
1 Singapore Airlines 7
2 Thai Airways 4
3 Cathay Pacific 3
4 Qatar Airways 6
5 Qantas 2

Best Economy Class Catering 2007

Rank Airline 2006
1 Etihad Airways 10
2 Emirates 3
3 Malaysia Airlines 9
4 Singapore Airlines
5 Qantas 2

Source: www.airlinequality.com

A whole variety of other categories are ranked and if you are flexible about which airline you want to choose, then the opinions of 14 million others is a useful guide.

Failing that, if none of the airlines mentioned appeal, then you can always join me as I make my way to Sierra Leone and have a few drinks with the pilots before boarding my flight on Air Rum – we won’t be landing anywhere near Europe mind you.

You may also like to read The Sky’s the Limit – the impact of deregulation

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