Despite high oil prices and growing economic uncertainty, the number of airline passengers on international routes has risen every month as of April compared to 2011, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).
In addition, the world’s second largest aircraft maker — Boeing — predicts that global air traffic will continue to rise by 5 percent a year over the next 20 years. As more people decide to fly, there are some airlines that have a distinctive edge over their rivals when it comes to providing the best service.
With this in mind, we look at the world’s 10 best international airlines that were recently announced at the annual World Airline Awards.The awards are run by U.K. market research firm Skytrax, which audits airlines and airports, conducts research for commercial airlines and runs the consumer review site AirlineQuality.com.
The rankings are based on overall customer satisfaction across first, business and economy class, using surveys from more than 18 million airline passengers worldwide. The survey covered 38 individual aspects of airline service, such as check-in, boarding, seat comfort, cleanliness, food and beverage and staff service.
This year, no North American or western European carriers made the top 10 cut.
So, which are the best airlines in the world? Click ahead to find out.
By Rajeshni Naidu-GhelaniPosted July 16, 2012
Fleet size: 84
Hub: Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia Airlines breaks back into the top 10 rankings of the world’s best airlines after placing 12th last year. It was ranked as high as sixth in 2008.
The airline also won the top honor for the best cabin staff and best catering signature dish for its "satay service" this year. Founded in 1947, Malaysia Airlines is one of the oldest carriers on the list and has been undergoing a major overhaul in recent years to modernize its fleet. It made headlines earlier this month when it took delivery of its first Airbus A380 at the Farnborough Airshow.The A380 (pictured) is one of four aircraft that Malaysia Airlines expects to receive this year, with two more to be delivered in 2013.
The A380s are also a key part of a strategy to turn around a flurry of dismal earnings from the airline recently. In May, the carrier reported a first quarter net loss of nearly $54.6 million,smaller than the $76 million loss reported in the same quarter a year earlier. In 2011, the airline had reported a more than $793 million loss — the biggest in its history.
Fleet size: 90
Thai Airways dropped four spots to rank ninth this year after placing among the world’s five best airlines in 2011. In 2006, the airline took the top honor as the world's best airline and placed second a year later.
The carrier, which is partly owned by the Thai government, was founded in 1960. Known for its friendly cabin staff, Thai Airways is one of few airlines that require international female flight attendants to change from their purple suits into traditional Thai dresses prior to the boarding of passengers. A popular employer in Thailand, the airline drew over 3,600 applicants for just 370 cabin crew positions last July.
This year has been one of transition for the airline after it took a big hit during the severe floods that devastated the Thai economy in late 2011. Its net profit of $113 million in the first three months of the year jumped a whopping 500 percent from a year earlier. In May, the airline also fired its presidentPiyasvasti Amranand over strategy disagreements. The management shake-up came days after news the airline was considering to launch a new budget carrier in Asia.
Fleet size: 174
Emirates, the largest carrier in the Middle East, moved up two spots in this year’s rankings after placing 10th in 2011.
The airline also won the best in-flight entertainment award for the eighth year in a row. Its in-flight entertainment selection boosts of 1,200 channels and 280 movies. Founded in 1985, the government-owned carrier operates over 1,200 flights from Dubai each week. It is one of the world’s biggest airlines by passenger numbers and the largest customer of the Airbus’ A380 superjumbo.
Emirates' rapid expansion has turned Dubai into a high-volume intercontinental travel hub. In November 2011, the airline made history by announcing the largest-ever Boeing plane orderin dollar-terms to date, buying 50 new aircraft for $18 billion. However in May this year, the airline reported a 72 percent drop in 2011 earningsas rocketing fuel prices cut into profits. Fuel costs rose by 44 percent to $6.6 billion, and the airline has said recently that it has had to pass off the cost to customers.
Fleet size: 184
Turkish Airlines is the only European airline to make the list of the world’s best airline for the second straight year. The carrier moved up two spots in the rankings after breaking into the top 10 for the first time in 2011.
Founded in 1933, the airline has been undergoing considerable transformation since the government shed more than half its stake in the carrier in 2003. 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 such superstar athletes as the NBA's Kobe Byrant, the Manchester United soccer team, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki, as well as actor Kevin Costner.
This year, the carrier won the award for the best premium economy seats for a second year in a row and came in second worldwide in the best economy catering category. Passenger numbers jumped20 percent year-on-year to 17.7 million people in the first six months of the year despite the carrier canceling 104 flights on May 29 after staff protested against a draft law that would make it illegal for aviation workers to strike.
Fleet size: 66
Hub: Abu Dhabi
Etihad Airways is in the six spot for a second year and retains the top ranking for the world’s best first-class cabin and first-class catering.
In first class, the airline offers seats that transform into 6-foot-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. In addition, Etihad announced last month that it bought 200 hens and three beehives to produce organic eggs and honeyto be served to passengers in an attempt to win customers from rival Gulf carriers.
With its relatively small fleet of 66 aircraft, Etihad nearly matches fellow national carrier Emirates, which has 174 aircraft, in operating more than 1,000 flights per week from its base in Abu Dhabi. Expanding through ties with other carriers as well as buying stakes in international airlines, 8-year-old Etihad is growing rapidly. In December, the airline raised its stake in Air Berlin to nearly 30 percent from just under 3 percent, paying almost $90 million, plus lending the carrier $255 million in the deal. Other recent deals include stakes in Irish airline Aer Lingusand Virgin Australia.
Fleet size: 226
All Nippon Airways (ANA) has broken into the top 10 this year, jumping six spots from last year’s rankings.
It also ranks No. 2 in the world for best ground services and is third for the best first class. The airline is the launch customer for Boeing’s highly anticipated 787 Dreamliner (pictured), and has ordered 55 of the aircraft in an attempt to modernize its fleet. The plane boasts of higher cabin pressure and humidity in order to make flying more comfortable.
Facing stiff competition at home from international and budget carriers, the airline announced earlier this month that it would raise up to $2.6 billion in a share saleto buy the new planes and bolster its finances. The move comes before competitor Japan Airlines launches its initial public offering of about $8 billion in September.