When you think of catching a flight, what comes to mind? Cramped seats, baggage fees, endless delays, long check-in lines and a $5 sandwich? In a world of booming budget travel, flying economy has quickly become less than luxurious.
However, not all airlines are made equal. The 10 best international airlines were recently announced at the annual World Airline Awards in Paris. The awards are run by U.K. market research firm Skytrax, which audits airlines and airports, conducts research for commercial airlines and also runs the consumer review site AirlineQuality.com.
The rankings presented here were developed based on overall customer satisfaction across first, business and economy class, using surveys from 18.8 million airline passengers worldwide. The surveys were conducted over a 10-month period through various methods, including online questionnaires, telephone interviews, business research groups and travel panels. The data cover 38 individual aspects of airline service, such as check-in, boarding, seat comfort, cleanliness, food and beverage and staff service.
Most of the top airlines on the list are based in the Asia-Pacific region, while no North American or Western European carriers made the cut.
Click ahead to see which airlines are considered the world's best.
Posted: July 11, 2011
Fleet Size: 153
Hub: Dubai, U.A.E.
Despite having a fleet of just 153 planes, Emirates is the world's largest airline by international passenger miles flown. It's also the largest carrier in the Middle-East.
The airline is known for its in-flight entertainment, offering 1,200 channels and 280 movies. Emirates has won the award for the best in-flight entertainment service for the last seven years. First-class cabins on some planes feature private suites, with individual mini-bars and bathrooms with showers.
Founded in 1985, the government-owned carrier operates over 1,000 flights from Dubai each week. Its rapid expansion has turned Dubai into a high-volume intercontinental travel hub. In 2001, Emirates made history by announcing the largest-ever plane order in dollar-terms to date, buying 58 new aircraft at a list price of $15 billion.
In June 2011, the airline said it would combat a profit squeeze from rising fuel prices by cutting fares to fill its 500-seat Airbus A380s. The airline is the largest operator of the superjumbo jet with 15 in service and another 75 on order.
Fleet Size: 174
Hub: Istanbul, Turkey
Entering the top 10 for the first time, Turkish Airlines won three awards at the 2011 World Airlines Awards, including the title of Europe's best airline.
Founded in 1933, the Istanbul-based airline has been undergoing considerable transformation since the government shed more than half its stake in the carrier in 2003. It's now Europe's third-largest airline by passenger numbers, overtaking British Airways last year. The airline won the award for the best premium economy seats and has been commended for its on-board Turkish meals.
Turkish airlines has adopted an aggressive marketing strategy in recent years. Television ads for the airline have featured some of the world's most recognizable faces, including superstar athletes such as NBA player Kobe Byrant, the Manchester United soccer team, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, as well as Hollywood actor Kevin Costner.
To maintain its competitive edge, the airline has introduced special discounted student fares, and over the last month it launched 11 new routes, taking its total global destinations to 180.
Fleet Size: 191
Hub: Sydney, Australia
Australia's Qantas Airways is the world's second-oldest airline still in operation. Founded in 1920 as the Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services (QANTAS), the airline has become one of the strongest business brands in the country.
No stranger to the World Airline Awards, Qantas has made the top 10 ranking for the last six years, though at one point it ranked as high as No. 2. The airline's order for 20 Airbus A380s makes it the second-largest customer in the world for the superjumbo jet.
Qantas has had a stellar safety record, with no fatal accidents since 1951. However, a number of close calls over the last 12 months have sullied that record.
Faced with stiff competition from regional budget carriers, such as Virgin Blue and Singapore-based Tiger Airlines, Qantas has struggled to maintain its market share. The airline's share of international traffic to and from Australia has fallen to 27 percent from 42 percent in 1993, and that includes flights from its budget carrier Jetstar.
Hit by a string of natural disasters and rising fuel costs, the airline's CEO Alan Joyce said last month that its international operations would post a more than $200 million loss in 2011.
Fleet Size: 103
Hub: Auckland, New Zealand
Air New Zealand has been named the best airline in the Australasia and Pacific region. It also won awards for the best premium economy class and the best catering in the same class. Passengers told Conde Nast's Traveler magazine they loved the airline on long-haul routes for its excellent food and catering and its child-friendliness. On-board meals feature New Zealand rack of lamb and fine wines from the country.
Air New Zealand's longest route is its Vancouver-to-Auckland connection with a flight time of 14 hours.
Founded in 1940 as Tasman Empire Airways with flying boats, the Auckland-based airline was renamed in 1965. It was privatized in 1989 and foreign airlines, including Qantas, Japan Airlines, and American Airlines bought stakes in the carrier. But in 2005, the airline became 75 percent government-owned after the New Zealand government injected money into the carrier following losses in the carrier's subsidiary Ansett airlines.
In an effort to revamp its image, Air New Zealand has launched a series of ads featuring its furry puppet mascot Rico, along with rapper Snoop Dog, and rock star Richard Simmons. Actors Lindsay Lohan and David Hasselhoff are also reported to have shot future commercials for the carrier.
Fleet Size: 57
Hub: Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.
Beating out the likes of Singapore Airlines and Qantas, relative newcomer Etihad Airways has regained the title of the world's best first-class cabin and best first-class catering.
Founded in 2003, it's the world's fastest-growing airline. By 2010, it had already matched rival carrier Emirates in terms of number of flights per week. Etihad's partnership with Virgin Australia in August 2010 opened up another 45 destinations.
In first class, the airline offers seats that transform into 6'8" flatbeds with a built-in massage system. The seats are upholstered with the same leather that supplies Ferrari interiors. Passengers in first and business class also get free chauffeur service in a dozen cities across the world.
Fleet Size: 95
Hub: Bangkok, Thailand
Making the list of the top five airlines in the world, Thai Airways drew over 3,600 applicants last week for just 370 cabin crew positions. In 2006, the airline took the top honor as the world's best airline and placed second the year after.
Known for its friendly cabin staff, the carrier is one of few airlines that require international female flight attendants to change from their purple suits into traditional Thai dress prior to the boarding of passengers.
The national carrier, which is partly owned by the Thai government, was founded in 1960 and is based in Bangkok.
Thai Airways has been trying to tap into the European market by announcing two new direct routes in November, one to Brussels and the other to Copenhagen. Last year, 28 percent of all visitors to Thailand came from Europe.
Fleet Size: 125
Hub: Hong Kong, China
Cathay Pacific is the world's third most profitable airline in terms of net profit. It is also the world's largest international cargo airline.
The airline made aviation history in 1998, when it operated the world's first ever non-stop commercial flight over the North Pole from New York to Hong Kong.
Founded in 1946 by American Roy C Farrell and Australian Sydney H. de Kantzow, the Hong Kong-based carrier grew rapidly in the 1960s—expanding at an average rate of 20 percent between 1962 and 1967.
Cathay Pacific was voted airline of the year in 2009. In an effort to compete with other top airlines, it announced that it would install new seats in its economy-class cabins. The move came just six months after it announced a $128 million plan to completely overhaul its business-class cabins on long-haul flights.
Fleet Size: 72
Hub: Seoul, South Korea
Winner of last year's title for the world's best airline, Asiana Airlines is one of two major carriers in South Korea. The airline also won awards for the best cabin staff and best economy class this year.
Based in Seoul, the airline was founded in 1988 and is one of only seven airlines around the world that have been given five-star status by Skytrax. With a relatively small fleet of 72 aircrafts, Asiana offers unique services, such as an airport lounge exclusively for disabled passengers at Incheon International Airport, in-flight magic shows and make-up events.
The airline flies to 68 international cities and its longest route is a 14-hour flight from Seoul to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Fleet Size: 112
Almost always at the top of any global airline ranking, Singapore's flag carrier has accomplished a long list of firsts in the aviation industry.
Founded in 1972, it was the first airline to offer free headsets, and free meals and drinks in economy class in the 1970s. In 1991, it was the first carrier to introduce satellite-based in-flight telephones. In 2004, it broke the record for the longest non-stop commercial flight, introducing an 18-hour flight from Singapore to Newark, N.J, in the U.S. And in 2008, the carrier became the first airline to fly the Airbus A380.
A key player on the "Kangaroo Route" — Singapore Airlines accounts for almost 10 percent of international traffic coming into and out of Australia. The carrier is the world's second largest airline by market capitalization at $14 billion.
Fleet Size: 97
Hub: Doha, Qatar
Leaping the rankings from eighth place six years ago, Qatar Airways has been named the world's best airline this year. It also won the award for the best airline in the Middle East and the best first-class airline lounge.
Founded in 1994, the Doha, Qatar-based national carrier operates one of the youngest fleet of aircrafts in the world, with an average plane age of four years.
Qatar Airways is also one of the fastest growing airlines in the world, with more than 100 international destinations in six continents. In 2010, it launched 10 new routes and so far this year its launched five more, including its first flights to Canada via service to Montreal.
Spurred by the wealth of its Gulf state, the carrier last month placed an order for six 777 Boeing jets worth $1.7 billion. The five-star carrier is also gearing up to introduce a whole new business-class cabin this year.