Luxury Airline Smackdown: The Good, the Bad, and the Overrated

Four Flights Aboard the Industry’s Most Prestigious Players. The Results Might Surprise You. And, are U.S. Carriers Closing the Gap?

Emirates A380 Bar 2



May 28th, 2015

EVERY SO OFTEN — perhaps more often than my finances justify — I splurge and buy myself a full-fare, long-haul business class ticket . I do this because I’m an airline geek, and I like to try out as many different carriers as possible. There’s also the guilty pleasures factor: I’m a sucker for the luxuries of flying up front. It’s really, really fun. The longer the flight the better.

I’m beginning to feel that the industry’s most highly respected names, while they offer a very good product, are overrated. It’s a case, maybe, of a reputation preceding you. Check the SkyTrax rankings and it’s the same winners, year after year, but are these really the top airlines, or do we simply expect them to be? Qatar Airlines, to pick one, calls itself “The World’s Five Star Airline,” whatever that means exactly. Repeat it enough times and everyone believes it. Certain carriers have built their identities around presumably being the best. Are they? Meanwhile, the once-beleaguered U.S. carriers are beginning to close the gap. Our airlines have come a long, long way in the past fifteen years, to the point where, if the following critiques are any indication, premium cabin service on Delta, United or American isn’t terribly different from what you’ll find aboard those SkyTrax perennials.

It’s tricky business, though, grading airlines. Experiences can vary tremendously flight to flight, depending on the temperament of the crew, aircraft type and configuration, and so on. An accurate appraisal requires a healthy sampling of various routes and aircraft. My sample sizes are unfairly small, but nonetheless here are my impressions of recent long-haul flights with four of the world’s most prestigious airlines…


Business Class, Boeing 777

Qatar Airways operates more than 120 aircraft, serving six continents from its hub in Doha.

I did not see the Qatar Airways business class lounge at the brand-new Doha airport because it was still under construction (it has since opened, and is considered one of the best in the world). For compensation, the carrier was offering vouchers for use in any of the airport restaurants or duty-free shops.  The customer service agent looked at me like I was crazy when I told him no thanks, that I didn’t need one of the vouchers. I was planning to eat on the plane, and there isn’t anything in an airport duty free shop that I possibly would wish to buy. Cologne? Cigars? Whiskey? What I wanted was somewhere quiet to relax, which proved difficult thanks to the lack of a lounge and the approximately eight million shrieking children scattered around the terminal. I finally found a gate that was mostly empty and mostly out of earshot of crying kids, way at the end of the concourse, and hid there until it was time to board.

Once on the plane things got better — at least at first. For starters, the aircraft was immaculate, and Qatar’s interior decor, accented by the 777’s adjustable moodlighting, is possibly the most striking and attractive in the entire industry.  The airline’s colors are a deep magenta and gray; a polished copy of its logo, the Arabian oryx, was mounted handsomely on the bulkhead. The cloth upholstery was a pleasant change, I thought, from the usual sticky leather. Just a beautiful cabin.

After the predeparture drinks were served, the flight attendant politely asked my permission — “may I take your glass please?” — before picking up my obviously empty champagne flute. Then he comes around with pajamas — tops and bottoms in a gray drawstring bag — and asks my size. Hey, I’m thinking, this is pretty stylish. This is going to be fantastic.

Qatar 777 Seat

Doha Airport

Well, it was and it wasn’t.

The business class cabin on the 777 is laid out six-abreast, 2-2-2, with a wide console between each seat. The plane felt very roomy (for some reason it seemed much roomier than the Korean Air 777 I was on a few days earlier, despite the same layout), but the retractable privacy barrier was small and not particularly useful.  Also, I prefer the angled, herringbone-style configuration in which every seat has direct-aisle access. It stinks having to climb over the feet of the person next to you, mid-flight, when going to the lavatory.  Neither do I like seatback-mounted video screens, common as they are, which allow everybody in the cabin to see what you’re watching (I’d start with the Coen Brothers’ “Inside Llewyn Davis”).

There was a mattress pad for use in the full recline position, which helped fill in the cushion gaps and made for a very comfortable bed. The pillows, though, were skimpy.  In a cubbyhole at each seat was a big leather binder, like the ones you find in a luxury hotel room, containing the menu, wine list, and beverage list.  Qatar’s wine glasses taper inward at the top — a nice idea that helps reduce spills.

What I didn’t realize, however, is that, there are no formal meal services. Everything is on request. You can order whichever meal you want, when you want it. When you’re hungry or thirsty, you flag down a flight attendant and ask. This is appealing for obvious reasons, but it’s a little too open-ended, and at no time was this process explained.  After takeoff I sat there for two hours, ravenously hungry and waiting for the service to begin, before finally figuring out there was no service!

And subsequently, each time I asked for something, it felt like I was putting the staff out. They quickly organized my meals, but they never smiled, and each time I was left with the sensation that they were doing me a favor. Overall, with the exception of a very tasty mezze appetizer, the food itself was mediocre and the portions tiny.  The third meal — I picked an Indian dish; I forget which — was lukewarm and undercooked, and I nearly sent it back. The crew also acted very confused about the menu choices.  When I asked for breakfast — one of the menu items was clearly labeled “breakfast” — the flight attendant didn’t seem to know what I was talking about. Finally she took out a menu, studied it for several seconds and said, “Oh, yes, that one. But you had it already, didn’t you?”

I had not.

Qatar 777 Meal

Worst of all, not once during the entire flight did a flight attendant ask if I needed anything.  Not once.  Except for when the meals were brought, I wasn’t even offered water. Walk-throughs were rare, and I sat with an empty wine glass and plastic trash on my console for four hours before finally carrying it to the galley myself. Under no circumstances is this acceptable in a long-haul, business class cabin.

Qatar’s entertainment system has loads of movies and television shows to choose from, but the interface is terrible. You scroll through the options using a cursor, and the cursor… moves…very….very…slowly.  And each time you highlight a movie or program to learn more about it, the system resets to the beginning.  So unless you actually watch that selection, you have to re-scroll all the way through again. And when you do choose to watch, it takes three separate clicks to get the program running, each on a different part of the screen, requiring you to reposition that damn slow-motion cursor. Very cumbersome.

But the strangest and most startling moment of the flight came near the end:

It was about an hour, maybe 45 minutes to landing. We hadn’t started descending.  I was in seat 3A, watching a movie. It was bright daylight outside, but the shades were drawn so the cabin was dark and cozy. All of a sudden, one of the flight attendants came over. Without a word, she reached across my body and WHAM, WHAM, WHAM, she slammed up the shades to all three of my windows!  My vision went white with sunlight. I was blinded.

What the fuck! Er, what I actually said, rather curtly, is “Excuse me, I’m watching a movie!”  No response.  Without a word, she stalked to the next poor passenger’s seat and WHAM, WHAM, WHAM, slammed up his shades as well. I understand that the shades need to be open for takeoff and landing (see chapter five of my book). But this was almost an hour before arrival. And the rudeness of it was appalling.

After she moved along, I slid two of my shades back down. About twenty minutes later she came back.  Again, saying nothing, she reached across me, this time her elbow nearly hitting me in the nose, and WHAM, WHAM, yanked the shades up again. This time I didn’t argue.


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Business class, Airbus A330 and Boeing 777

Based in Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific is the world’s 14th largest airline.

I was traveling Bangkok-Hong Kong-Amsterdam. That’s about fifteen hours of flying, and it cost me only $2200. But here’s something funny: If I’d booked only the HKG-AMS portion, the much longer of the two legs, the price was almost six thousand dollars! For the same flight on the same day, but without the Bangkok leg at the beginning. That’s right, if you fly from Bangkok to Hong Kong to Amsterdam, it costs $2200.  If you fly only from Hong Kong to Amsterdam, it costs three times as much. That shows you what a high-end market Hong Kong is, and how competitive things are out of Bangkok.  If you’re a business traveler flying to Europe, why not hop down to BKK first and grab the flight from there? You’d save thousands of dollars and it it’s only an extra few hours.

The first flight, a two-and-a-half hour hop, would be on an Airbus A330. The twelve-hour leg to Schiphol would be a 777-300 (what long-haul flight isn’t a 777-300 these days?). Both business cabins were outfitted with Cathay’s beautiful lie-flat sleeper pods: four seats across in an angled 1-2-1 configuration. Cathay gives Qatar a run for its money when it comes to stylish decor, with lots of forest green, tan and wood-tone. But it was the little touches that really stood out: the bulkhead artwork, for example, and the real orchids at every seat (and in the lavs too). The seats themselves were the most comfortable I’d ever sat in.

Cathay Pacific A330 Seat

The first leg started with the usual hot towel and champagne service.  After takeoff a hot dinner was served, with separate appetizer and dessert courses and a choice of three wines. After dinner the cabin lights were dimmed and a buttery moodlighting was turned on.  Prior to landing there was a beverage service and another round of hot towels. The lighting changed from butter to a greenish-blue.  All of this on a flight less than three hours long.  In the U.S. I’d probably have been wedged into a 70-seat regional jet with a bag of pretzels.

Cathay’s business class lounge in Hong Kong was well appointed but, as seems to be the case in every premium lounge nowadays, overcrowded.  The clientele in the lounge was a peculiar and particular lot, with everybody seeming to fit one of two profiles: The wealthy Anglo banker type, or the evil Asian villain/drug dealer from a James Bond movie.  Profile number three is the interloper. That would be yours truly, emptying out his bank account for a chance to pretend he’s a member of groups one or two. I am the stranger, the observer, the spy.

The second leg was essentially an expanded version of the first one.  Instead of a single meal service, there were three. Instead of two hot towels, there were five. When it’s mealtime, flight attendants came down the aisle with each entree displayed on the cart. Rather than ordering ahead of time, you picked the one that looked tastiest. I like this idea. There was no on-board lounge, but buffet-style snacks and drinks were available throughout the flight.  All of the cabin staff, if a bit less than chipper, were gracious and professional.

Cathay’s entertainment options were also very good. Not as good as Emirates’ ICE or Delta’s Panasonic system, which in my opinion are the best in the sky, but a lot better than most. Cathay’s noise-canceling headsets, stored in a small closet near your shoulder, are pre-wired into the console; you don’t need to plug them in.

An excellent experience overall.

Cathay Pacific Orchid


Business class, Airbus A380

Measured by international traffic, Emirates is now the largest airline in the world.

On the outside, the megajumbo A380 is the ugliest jetliner ever conceived, but on the inside it’s quite a treat: spacious, luxurious and whisper-quiet. This is also a good example of how aircraft type can make such a difference. Emirates’ 777 business class has a more standard-style seat, and at seven across it’s very, very tight. Its upper deck A380 business class, on the other hand, is outstanding.

Before departure, a flight attendant came down the aisle, introduced herself to each customer and making sure everybody was familiar with the various seat controls, including the electrically operated window shades. (Emirates’ pre-departure announcement always reminds passengers of how may languages its crew can speak. Tonight it was eighteen. No real surprise. Emirates is the most global of global carriers, with a polyglot staff of expats, but I have to ask: does somebody actually count?)

The seats on the A380 are full-flat sleepers with a console and minibar to one side. It’s not a totally enclosed suite like you’d find in first class, but the chair is set deeply within the cubicle. The rows are slightly staggered, however, and the trick is to get a seat with the console on the outside, which acts as a buffer between you and the aisle. This was a two-leg trip. On the second flight I had one of the inside-facing consoles, and the feel was totally different. Window seats have thigh-level storage compartments along the side, similar to those in the upper deck of the 747, and the two center seats have an electric privacy barrier between them. Flight attendants hand out mattress pads for your bed, but for me it was plenty comfortable without one.

It needs to be said that Emirates’ taste in decor isn’t for everybody. Overdone in faux wood and gold trim, it’s that sort of Arabian-Vegas aesthetic popular in the Middle East. But that just adds to the fun. It’s tough to complain when you’re sitting there amidst it all, playing make-believe Emir in your golden sky-throne.

Emirates A380 Seat

Emirates A380 Center

The ICE system (Information, Communications, Entertainment) offers more than a thousand movies, television and music options, though a good number of them are Indian or Chinese selections. The video screen is huge and crystal clear, with a comfortable set of noise-reduction headsets. On the information channel you can choose between three different external camera views, including one from high atop the A380’s tail.

Emirates’ menu always has great multi-ethnic entree choices, but the portions are stingy and the presentation is discombobulated. At most airlines there’s a formal “service,” with each course delivered from an aisle cart. At Emirates, as with Qatar (see above), passengers are served separately, and the whole thing feels random and confused, with flight attendants running to and from the galley with plates and trays. I never knew for sure what would be next to arrive, or when.

In the very back of the upper deck is a lounge. There’s a horseshoe-shaped bar staffed by a flight attendant and a countertop spread of pastries and hors d’oeuvres. On either side of the lounge is semicircular, sofa-style bench seat. The benches have seat belts, so you’re welcome to hang out during turbulence.

Emirates A380 Bar

Transfer at Dubai was a breeze. It took about six minutes to reach my connecting gate, including no more than a minute or two at security (why secondary security is required at all is a topic for later, but at least in Dubai it’s quick). Transfer time can be longer if you’re switching terminals, but the process is still pretty painless. In the U.S. it would take at least an hour, and probably a lot longer, thanks to our country’s absurd international connection policies, requiring you to claim all of your luggage, stand in line to check in again, and pass through the full TSA gauntlet, often with a change of terminals to boot.

Emirates’ business class “lounge” at Dubai’s terminal A is one of the most impressive things I’ve seen at an airport. I put “lounge” in quotes because that word belies just how big the place is. Terminal A is massive, and the lounge takes up the entire upper level. It’s an airport unto itself, with several sub-lounges where you can eat, drink, or relax in quiet, softly lit waiting areas. Boarding bridges lead directly from the lounge to the upper deck of the A380. You never even see economy class, or any of the economy class passengers. This also shields you from having to see the plane’s ghastly exterior.

Emirates is one of only a few carriers to have developed its own proprietary typeface, which it uses in everything from its advertising to its inflight menu. I don’t know who designed this font, but it’s very attractive and distinctive. In an era when carriers are becoming more and more similar to one another, it’s a small but elegant way for Emirates to set itself apart. More airlines should do this kind of thing.

Emirates DXB Lounge


Business class, Boeing 777

Singapore Airlines has won more passenger service awards than any other carrier.

This was it, the Big Kahuna. I’d be riding the swankiest airline of them all, in what’s marketed as the biggest and fanciest business class seat in the world. The Singapore to Amsterdam flight will take thirteen presumably blissful hours on a 777-300 arranged in a super-spacious 1-2-1 configuration. The night prior, I was so excited I could hardly sleep.

So how was it? Underwhelming, frankly.

It began pleasantly enough, with a warm welcome from the cabin crew. Singapore’s female flight attendants are called “Singapore Girls,” and for decades they’ve worn the famous Sarong Kebaya, designed by Pierre Balmain. (Malaysia Airlines crews wear these same dresses, colored slightly different. Malaysia and Singapore were the same carrier until 1972.) Who am I to judge women’s fashions, but these are the most fetching uniforms in the industry, bar none.

And the seat, oh it’s big all right: the widest I’ve ever seen, with a 15.4-inch video screen and lots of storage space. The seat is so big that I laughed out loud as I settled into the thing. The seat-back unlatches and falls forward, like the rear seats in a car, creating a huge sleeping space. This is no longer a seat, it’s a bed.

Singapore 777 seat

Singapore 777 Bed

The problem is, in order to maximize room for sleeping, your leg space is offset from the rest of the chair. The cubicle faces forward, but in the bed position you’re at about a 30-degree horizontal angle. Lying flat, my feet faced toward the window, and my head toward the aisle. Thus, if the seat is in the normal, non-bed position, the only way to stretch your legs is to aim them sideways toward that offset slot. When you’re dining or watching a movie, the seat becomes extremely uncomfortable (I’m told that on Singapore’s A380s the leg slot is directly forward, solving this problem).

The meals, meanwhile, were so-so, with small portions, and the crew’s attentiveness was adequate at best — certainly no better than on any of the fights described above. My wine glass was taken before I could ask for a refill, and walk-throughs were so infrequent that I twice had to walk to the galley and ask for water. This was the vaunted Singapore Airlines? I almost hate to say it, but my own carrier’s cabin staff — yes, one of those reviled U.S. carriers — is usually much friendlier and more diligent. The inflight Wi-Fi did not work, and no apology or explanation was given.

As on Cathay Pacific, though, some of the small touches stood out. The artwork, for instance, and the roomy lavatories stocked with amenities. I also appreciated that Singapore doesn’t wrap its pillows and duvets in clear plastic, as too many carriers do. I get the need for hygiene, but let’s not overdo it. It’s a little déclassé, not to mention wasteful, having to unwrap your bedding and shove all that plastic into a seat pocket.

Singapore 777 forward

Singapore 777 Angle

The winner? Cathay, probably, though everything else being equal, those Emirates A380 seats with the outside console are fantastic.

Don’t get me wrong. Even the worst of these flights was highly enjoyable. The encroachment of low cost carriers like AirAsia, Tiger, et al notwithstanding, Asia still does air travel right. The planes are always widebodies and there’s always a full meal. the airports are always efficient and traveler-friendly.

And is it any wonder that passengers hate transiting through U.S. airports?  It’s not that our carriers are especially bad, but the rest of the experience is awful: the noisy, dirty, claustrophobic terminals, the tedious TSA lines, the two-hour waits to clear immigration, etc. In Asia everything is big and clean and efficient. It’s zip, zip, zip and you’re through, regardless of where you’re sitting or how much you paid for your ticket.

Another impressive (and amusing) thing about Asian air travel is how fast and efficient they are when it comes to boarding. Even on a flight with 400 passengers they typically don’t start boarding until a half hour prior to departure.  Yet they’re almost never late.  Somehow they manage to get all of those people on in thirty minutes, every time.  Of course, you’re always on a widebody plane, which are by nature quicker to board and deplane, and they usually use two jet bridges — or three on the A380.  You seldom encounter those doorway traffic jams that are so routine in the U.S, where the norm is to horde luggage-laden people onto single-aisle jets through a single doorway. (Of the four carriers I’ve written about, Qatar is the only one with any single-aisle aircraft in its fleet. The smallest planes operated by Emirates, Singapore or Cathay are Airbus A330s.)

And lastly, one of the things that drives me crazy on U.S. airlines is the incessant public address chatter. The first 45 minutes of an international flight is taken up by a start-and-stop stream of announcements, often in multiple languages, only a small portion of which is useful or informative. On and on it goes, interrupting your movie or otherwise driving you crazy. We don’t need an announcement, in three languages, to tell us that the cabin lights are about to be dimmed. Just dim them; we can find our reading lights. Spare us the “sit back, relax, and enjoy” pablum, and those interminable end-of-the-flight salutations as well. Overseas carriers aren’t so self-conscious, and they seem to understand that it’s possible to be thankful and courteous to your customers without being overbearing. With the exception of Emirates, which borrows too closely from the U.S. model, each of the flights above was pleasantly quiet from departure to arrival. Announcements, when they came, were quick and to the point.

Now, if there’s anyone out there willing to donate five or six thousand dollars, I’d love to try Qantas, Lufthansa, or Air New Zealand.


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84 Responses to “Luxury Airline Smackdown: The Good, the Bad, and the Overrated”
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  1. Anton says:

    Obviously, everything you have written is your experience and I respect that. But as a frequent business class traveller, I find that service and aircraft style varies with each flight and I find you get both the good and the not-so-good on all airlines. There is always something wonderful about getting on board first and having a spacious lie-flat seat/bed to enjoy. Then leaving first – and having your bags delivered before everyone else and you’re often out the door of the airport while the rest of the plane is still standing in the immigration lines. And having a lounge to enjoy and a shower is wonderful. Food wise, I’m always just grateful to have an edible meal on board and a nice glass or two of champagne and wine. The mere fact that airlines can produce that from tiny kitchens 10kms in the air is a miracle. And I try never to criticise the staff in business class. Some airlines, especially Cathay, expect you to press the call button and ask for what you want. But otherwise, they don’t disturb you. But they respond immediately if I call and they never make me feel as though I’m bothering them. So all in all – having flown on all of these airlines – including LH, QF and NZ – I think it’s pretty much up to the passenger to ‘design’ your own inflight experience. My own tips – be super friendly to the staff when you board and give them a great smile and a please and thank you – and you’ll get first class service every time.

  2. Paul says:

    Very nice and informative reviews.
    A comment: Do not be sorry for not tried out just yet Lufthansa. The first class food is far away down from the quality what I have received on economy thirty years ago. The last three round trip flights between LAX to FRA and MUC could not eat the food in first class (in 2016) it was that bad, and I eat just about everything. The seat is OK but not close to that good than Emirates’. All other services ditto. I have started to take my own music and headphone, because of the music selection is below poor (I listen classical music). A few perks such as limousine service to the airport and between flights (in Germany only) is good but not worth the price.
    You have not lost anything by not flying on Air New Zealand either.
    I would love to know when did you use the Cathay Pacific.

  3. SkyClub says:

    Great to see all these airlines compared in such detail! All of the airlines in this list are fabulous in their own ways. Surprised you were disappointed by Singapore Airlines, their food is usually top notch, especially if you take advantage of their ‘Book the Cook’ service. The seats are also incredibly wide.

  4. John Kneijber says:

    I also found Singapore Airlines underwhelming on 3 of 4 sectors. Considering they are one of the most expensive airlines I expected more. Perhaps my expectations were too high but considering the awards they have won and their 5 star rating I was disappointed. No more than 6 out of 10. Frankly Qantas is also totally overrated. Air New Zealand have amazing crew, but their hard product, though very comfortable, is now dated. I have had best service and sleep on Etihad.

  5. Stephen787 says:

    Interesting to hear your view of these carriers from a North American perspective. Coming from Australia and having flown on these airlines several times each I can agree with some of your comments. I’ve had both good and bad service from Qatar and this is due to the individual crew. It was unfortunate that you didn’t get to fly on QR’s new BA Super Diamond 1-2-1 seating which is excellent and better in my mind than the Zodiac seating that CX, AF and AA have. Agree there was no excuse for the window blind episode.

    I’m not sure how often you fly on Asian carriers but I’ve observed that SQ have been so used to being revered by the media many of the crew operate like robots. Going through the motions to deliver the required service but no smiles or personality. CX seem to have cut costs and seem to have more younger crew that just don’t seem to care like they used to. Only the older more experienced crew seem like a chat. Thai and Qantas are my favourite crews for their friendliness.

    Thanks also for calling out the difference in culture between boarding in the US and the rest of the world. I’m often amazed at how much hand luggage Americans seem to take onboard and how long it takes to get the flight ready for pushback. Unfortunately Australians seem to be going down this path by taking too much luggage onboard as well.

  6. Mark says:

    Qatar simply don’t offer Western Food. Their Bizz class service I have found to be outstanding but unless you enjoy Middle Eastern or Asian food, prepare to go hungry even in the business class sections.

  7. Mark Tindal says:

    Many thanks for this great article. I’m flying Club to Adelaide in February from the UK and this is exactly what I was looking for.

    Since writing this have you flown with Quantas or British Airways?

  8. Richard says:

    Who would want cabin crew walking up n down the aisle on long haul flights? The call button us there for a reason, use it to call the crew if you need something.

  9. John says:

    Who flies economy…you’d have to be nuts. Upcoming trips EVA BKK-SFO-BKK Business and then again a few months later on EK First. I haven’t flown in the back of a plane for almost 20 years.

  10. nonoti says:

    Thanks for the good reviews Patrick!

    With regards to QR, I have flown business a few times with them. While I did not experience anything but friendly and helpful crew (maybe they read your review ) I do agree with some of the things like the screen being on the seat in front of you – its just a silly idea.

    FYI – they make it very very clear now that the menu is a “eat-when-you-want-how-u-want”. So you probably weren’t the only person complaining about the confusion 🙂

  11. Tunino R. Haskell says:

    I was at a crossroads on deciding whether to fly from Johannesburg to Hong Kong with a stopover in Bangkok with my favorite airline, Emirates or first flight, Cathay Pacific.

    After reading your article my mind was made up, Cathay Pacific it would be. I knew I would not earn my “valuable” Skywards miles or my possible upgrade to a First Class private suite but I’m going to experience a good flight with excellent service I’m sure.

    Thank you for an honest and very real review on this very competitive industry

    • Patrick says:

      Well, okay, but hang on. You will, almost surely, have an enjoyable flight; however, the chance to upgrade to Emirates first class, well that’s a tough one to turn down, especially if the aircraft is an A380. Emirates’ suites on the A380, with the onboard bars and the showers, etc., are handily better than J class on Cathay. And, you have the benefit of the Emirates lounge at DXB, with direct access to the premium class boarding bridges (at least in concourses A and B). The opportunity to bypass the boarding lounge is a very heavy perk.

  12. Rob T says:

    Thanks for the review, as we were going back and forth between EK and QR from SIN to FCO in J. Also, thanks for making me blow wine out of my nose when reading your reaction to the QR window shade incident! Priceless.

    We did choose QR, for the novelty of flying the A350, over the 777 on EK.

    Thanks again.

  13. Barbara Foster says:

    Oh my soul ….. you are soooo funny yet incredibly informative at the same time!
    Help…. I need to read about Singapores 777-300er & A380 ‘s economy class as
    alas Patrick, as much as I may wish, I will never see myself rising above lowly economy
    Can I look forward to reading this or do you only do business/ 1st class reviews. If so,
    it’s a crying shame!

    Yours economically
    Barbara Foster
    South Africa

  14. CS says:

    While I don’t doubt your experience on Singapore Airlines, I suggest that you give it another shot. I frequently fly SQ between Singapore and Shanghai and while I have encountered “bad” crews, most of my flights were exceptional…

  15. Judy G says:

    Stumbled upon this topic which is close to my heart as I was doing a major catch up reading your excellent site.

    I am lucky to fly Biz Class fairly frequently – although always in Aeroplan Rewards seats. Hubby flies a lot for business, and racks up the points. He flies well over 100K miles per year, so has access to “priority seats”.

    Much of my long haul biz travel has been on Air Canada, but I’ve also been in the front cabin on Thai, Singapore, Lufthansa, ANA, Air New Zealand, and JAL. Consistently, Air Canada has the best Business Class I have experienced. As you aptly point out, crews can make all the difference in the quality of the experience. With rare exceptions, the service on Air Canada is pretty consistently good. They’ve switched over from the herringbone lie flat cubicles (which I loved) to an interim high density biz class configuration, which is not nearly as good (the seats drop to lie flat – feels like being in a coffin). They have now started to roll out their newest configuration, which is not yet fleet-wide, and it’s good – across between the earlier herringbone and higher density configs, with alternating single/doubles in the windows, and offset doubled in the centre.

    Vancouver (YVR) has in-transit facilities so international passengers making connections are not required to clear Immigration, meaning shorter connection times can be planned. I do everything I can to avoid transiting through the US to avoid the Immigration boondoggle.

  16. It’s not fair to compare QR old product on 77W with Emirates A380. You should try with QR A380, 787 and A350 business product and try to compare it with Emirates A380. And there you go again, you’re so biased towards US Airlines. I’ve flown with Delta, AA, United and they’re totally nothing against SQ, QR, EK, EY, and CX.

    • Patrick says:

      Maybe if I could afford it!

      I’ve looked at the photos and seat maps, though, and Qatar’s A380, 787, and A350 business class have the herring-bone configuration with seats angled inward, so that in ANY seat you are exposed to the aisle. I much, much, much prefer the staggered seats, when you at least have the chance of getting a seat with the console between you and the aisle. To me it makes a gigantic difference. Those Emirates A380 seats with the consoles on the OUTSIDE are amazing. It’s your own little cubicle.

      • I’ve flown with EK A380 and QR A350 in business. I personally prefer the reverse herringbone because it gave me plenty of legroom. EK staggered business is awesome but it doesn’t really comfortable than QR reverse herringbone. Well yeah, B/E Super Diamond Seat on QR A350, 787, and A380 lack of privacy but it’s wide and have a direct access to the aisle.

        • Nonoti says:

          This is all irrelevant though when like me, you purchase Business tickets on QR’s 787 to enjoy the herringbone seats…

          Only to find out they changed equipment and have you on the rickety old 777’s…. 🙁

          Its like the anticlimax of a lifetime…

  17. Guy says:

    I believe the inattentiveness of the flight attendants is due to the fact that there are no longer daytime flights. By that I mean that soon after takeoff all the shades are drawn so that everyone can watch the IFE and then once breakfast/lunch/dinner is served and the cabin lights are dimmed some people go to sleep. The inside of the aircraft is dark no matter the time zone or conditions outside, so the flight attendants don’t walk around else they will wake people up.

  18. Eirik says:

    If this becomes the new Economy reality, Im gonna start flying business too. Ugh!

  19. Martin says:

    After reading this piece, I was expecting a great flight on Cathay Pacific last week. Instead, flying economy, I got indifferent service and one of the worst airline meals I can remember. As a vegetarian, I always pre-order the Asian veggie meal, and expect to get at a minimum some bland combination of peas, carrots, and rice. Cathay Pacific did much worse on the flight out of Hong Kong, some aggressive goo that I think DNA analysis would trace back to cabbage and tomatoes. And on the flight into Hong Kong, it took literally an hour between when my meal was handed to me and when the cart arrived with beverages/ non-special food. I suppose I could have gotten up and asked for something to drink, but the slime in front of me didn’t look any more tempting when it was hot than when it cooled to cabin temperature. On the return flight, I had to ask 3 times to get the scotch I was hoping for before the meal, ending up with it as dessert. As for breakfasts…

    Arrival in Hong Kong was Logan-esque. 25 minutes to get through immigration because they were shocked, shocked! that jumbo jets were depositing hundreds of passengers at their establishment. But that was ok, because my bag didn’t hit the conveyor belt for a good hour after landing. (Hey, someone’s bag has to be the last off the plane.) Departure, on the other hand, was brilliant: check in at the train station, then glide to the airport on the fast train luggage-free. Overall, Cathay Pacific and HK Airport both get 6/10

    • Martin says:

      Final insult from Cathay Pacific, which probably doesn’t hit a pilot who usually flies with crew privileges. For 24 hours of flying to/from Hong Kong, airline affiliate American gave zero (that’s 0 with a Z) frequent flier miles or “qualifying miles”. One apparently has to be in Gold Level economy class in order to get American miles on Cathay Pacific. For us plebeians who gain just a slight bit of occasional extra luxury from miles rewarded for time slogging in airplanes for work, the miles matter. Earning a goose egg, on top of lousy food and reluctant service? Don’t look for me on CX if I can help it.

  20. cdiii says:

    Excellent and hilarious article. Marry me! You might be the only person with whom I could travel who shares my perspective.

    You might need more than 6K for a Qantas biz class flight but it would be worth it. Having just returned from a SEA-AKL, AKL-SYD, SYD-SEA journey, the Airbus seating map (2-2-2) and the clamshell style seats gives it a spacious feel. If you are on the window there is still the issue of the tight squeeze to get past your seat mate as you head into the aisle but I managed fine, even when the lie flat bed was extended. And because you are on the upper deck, the ride seems smoother particularly take off and landing.

    The Neil Perry inspired menu kicks the food offering up a notch than in previous flights (I speak from 20+ years of Qantas travel) with a decent wine list (they could do with a lighter, sweeter white wine but the introduction of umbrella drinks (passionfruit & vodka cocktail) does offer a few more options.

    The flight staff have always been gracious, attentive and vigilant both in making certain that I have (water? snacks? an extra portion of salmon?) before I have to fumble for a call button or unbuckle my seat belt, as well as making certain that the economy class passengers do not find their way upstairs to gawk.

    My only real challenge with Qantas would their airport lounges. The SYD lounge has a “smart casual” dress requirement. When I was there I was overdressed next to the MTV Beach House biz lounge interlopers.

  21. Tom Zimmermann says:

    I have not read all the other comments so it may have been covered already. Qantas has always been business-class geared. They have ignored economy for years and – were it not for their merger with Emirates – would have gone under. Air NZ is fantastic in Economy, and probably better still in business.
    Lufthansa is Scheisse in both. My friend – and avid business-class traveller has said it is the single worst experience he has had, so this may sway your decision to try it.

    BTW, you may be pleased that both of your books are available in bookshops here in Perth, Australia, geographically about as far from where you live as you can get. I have also seen it at my local library.

  22. Nice post, as always Patrick. You may or may not know women’s fashion, but you are correct about the flight attendant uniforms of Singapore and Malaysia’s female cabin crew. Lovely and elegant, probably a little impractical tho.

    Regarding Qantas, I can only tell you about the lounge. As I reported in my blog, “In the business class lounge the following day, I found wet towels piled on the floor in the bathroom and dirty dishes and food residue remained on tables long after the flyers had departed.”

    For a first class experience in business, try Turkish and JetBlue’s Mint.

    • Patrick says:

      Maybe not so impractical. They appear to be made of a very stretchy and durable fabric. They’re not sheer, and they don’t seem to restrict the girls’ movements.

  23. Dan from NJ says:

    Great article! Just discovered your blog, terrific stuff indeed. Also a seasoned traveler, always looking for a decent Biz class experience. Recently took Etihad from NY to Bangalore via Abu Dhabi, and it was quite nice indeed. Yep, 777-300 as usual, but it had fake wood floors in the galley area, which made if feel warm (the hull wore Jet airways livery). The cabin crew was particularly attendant and polite, as well as very international.

    Also, totally agree that the domestics are improving, bit by bit, inch by inch. Its a long slog for sure, as they fell to terrible depths over the past decade or so. I use UA and AA mostly domestically, more UA lately. Their Biz class product is actually quite good these days. We’ve used it a number of times in the past year, and am going to use it again next week (Paris on a 757 Biz Class,..)

    Judging by many of the comments here, and the general vitriol toward the domestic carriers, I think many people expect too much from the air travel experience. The 1950s glamour and perceived luxury could never scale to a modern industry that in the US alone has around 7000 planes running around 85,000 flights per DAY!

    Its a very technically complex public transportation system, and none of its peers are particularly wonderful either, short of the high speed Shinkansen potentially.

  24. Rich says:

    The author is comparing old Qatar business seats to the new on other airlines. Qatar 787, 350 and 380 have the newest business seats, and in no way comparable to the seats reviewed on the 777 in the article. If he wants to compare the Qatar 380 to the Emirates 380, the author would be in for a big surprise!!!

  25. John says:

    Enjoyed the review/ well done, but whether you realize it or not…you are a ‘homer’. Meaning one can ‘feel’ your bias towards US carriers in your review. I live in Houston (United fortress hub) and avoid United at all costs. Lucky for me I only fly long haul business & first to Europe, ME and Asia. Example – Turkish to Istanbul almost monthly, Singapore Airlines to Moscow, Emirates to DXB as well. The difference in Business class ‘soft & hard’ product is ‘laughable’ when compared to US airlines. No comparison.
    IMO, the US airlines just cant compete…too many reasons to list here…

    • Patrick says:

      It’s not fair to call me biased in favor of U.S. airlines. I’ve been writing for over a decade now, here and at Ask the Pilot‘s former home on, and over that span I have given the American carriers more than their fair share of criticism. I used to get mail all the time from people telling me I was biased toward the foreign carriers! I’m just happy about the fact that we’ve made so much progress.

  26. Alex says:

    loved your book, now starting to read your blog. I’m a frequent flyer that’s been on all these airlines, though mostly on economy. Definitely agree on most of your opinions here, especially points regarding US transit deficiencies and Asia’s pleasant experiences. Another point on that is how modern many of Asia’s airports are, which helps the overall travel experience.

    Regarding inflight announcements, I agree that some carriers can over do it. But I love hearing from the captain just after take off, and I think British Airways does a stellar job. They highlight the planned route, weather conditions, and add in a few British pleasantries that for some reason just comfort me. Compared to say EVA Air, you can go from SFO to Taipei and not hear a word uttered from the cockpit. For me, the personal touch is lacking, though I do love that airline overall.

  27. Sam D says:

    Business class on most airlines is likely going to be at least a decent experience. In my opinion the real measure of an airline’s quality is not just how nice their business and first classes are but how nice economy is too. In that regard pretty much every US-based carrier fails hard. Many no longer offer free alcoholic beverages on international flights where as this is standard on just about every European and Asian carrier. Food quality on US carriers almost always falls short compared to their foreign rivals. For a real comparison try flying economy on, say, Emirates then fly economy on American, UA, Delta etc there is no way they’d be an even remotely comparable experience.

    • Patrick says:

      This is a good point, Sam. Thanks for leaving it. I somewhat disagree with your assessment of the U.S. carriers though. Most recently I’ve done economy on Korean, Thai, All Nippon, Sri Lankan, SAS and JAL. SAS (short haul intra-Europe) was the worst. The rest weren’t terribly different from the average U.S. carrier’s economy experience — though again this is one of those things that varies quite a bit, depending on the route and aircraft type. I’ll take Delta’s IFE over anybody’s, for example, with the possible exception of Emirates.

  28. Tom says:

    I’ve taken 4 round-trip business class flights on Cathay Pacific over the last several years. All flights were New York-Vancouver, on Boeing 777-300ER with four-across seating. The seat comfort was outstanding, both upright and fully reclined for sleeping. The cabin crews were always professional but the level of service was not consistent. Sometimes warmed almonds were served with the pre-takeoff champagne service, sometimes not. Sometimes I was greeted by name, other times no one spoke to me. On the last several flights the flight attendants disappeared after a single post-dinner clean-up sweep, never to be seen again. On those occasions I eventually took my remaining trash to the galley and handed it to one of the attendants. On the last flight, after taking my trash to the galley, I asked an attendant if I could have some ice cream. After asking whether I would be continuing on to Hong Kong from Vancouver, and ascertaining that I wouldn’t, she said “Then, no”. I was too amused by the ridiculousness of the situation to be annoyed, but still.

  29. Dana Levin says:

    While US airlines take hits compared to foreign carriers that you reviewed, their 1st and business 1st continue to improve. I just used MP miles for a vacation to Europe from SAN. The return leg was especially pleasing, a UA 744 from Frankfurt to SFO. I was in business 1st in the upper deck. There are only 20 passengers up top, 2 flight attendants to take care of any needs and a really wide aisle. It was very quiet and the 2 flight attendants were attentive. This segment was much better than the 777 from Chicago to Frankfurt because of the upper deck on the 747. Too bad UA is phasing the queen out.

    I had a bit of a layover in Frankfurt, and took advantage of my Gold* and the ticket to use Luftansa’s Senator lounge in the international terminal. I highly recommend this lounge, very large, not crowded, hot food, every kind of drink imaginable, very clean and some darkened sleep rooms if you need to catch a nap. This is head and shoulders better than the regular *alliance lounge, couldn’t get into the 1st class lounge but heard it’s even better.

  30. Rod says:

    “I sat with an empty wine glass and plastic trash on my console for four hours.”

    Stop! This is bordering on the tragic!

  31. Tim H says:

    Merci for living the dream for all of us airport/aircraft/flying junkies. Even with all the deterioration of the experience, TSA security theatre, etc, I still have trouble sleeping the night before an overseas trip.

  32. Eric Rudolph says:

    Cool piece. Yes, a Lufthansa 74 biz class report next, please!

  33. Msconduct says:

    Thanks, this was really helpful. I belong to Air New Zealand’s “invitation only” forum (soooo exclusive!) and I don’t think when they set it up that they were expecting their frequent fliers to be swapping tips on which carriers were better than Air NZ. I learned there recently about how good Cathay is in business and, what’s more, they charge several thousand dollars less than Air NZ for travel to Europe. What with that and your good review: sold.

    I was surprised at your characterisation of Singapore as the pinnacle of luxury: I’ve always thought of it as good but not all that. I quite like the wide seat because I can sit on it with my legs crossed yoga-style, which is comfy if inviting DVT, but people I’ve flown with have hated it because it’s so wide you can’t reach the armrests. And ugh, the horrible foot hole. So uncomfortable. And the way the console looms out at you gives me claustrophobia too. It’s better in the seats at the very front of the cabin for that reason, and on some planes they have a little mini-cabin of two rows only which feels nice and private.

  34. Caroline says:

    Thanks for the interesting and, as always, well written article.
    Being a fearful flyer – bordering on phobic (things are improving, though, thanks to a seminar in Geneva combined with your book:)- I’m disappointed to hear that even in some of these ‘above the cut’ Airlines, walk-throughs by FA are rare. For the same reason, I disagree with your opinion regarding announcements from the cockpit and the cabincrew. During flights in Europe, they practically don’t say a word. From your perspective, I understand that this might be a good thing, but for a fearful flyer like me, a bit of chatter from the cockpit can feel very reassuring. Once, on a flight from Geneva to Madrid, the pilote or first officer actually pronounced the words ‘so just sit back, relax and enjoy’ and it helped me snap out of my mounting panic and feel more calm! That is not to say that there should be ‘incessant announcements’.
    Lastly, I agree with John, it would be interesting to have some reporting for those of us who unfortunately won’t be flying business class on a regular basis.
    Best regards,

    • Patrick says:

      I’m not talking about “chatter from the cockpit, which, so long as it’s informative (flight time, weather, etc) I have no problem with. I’m talking about the long, flowery cabin announcements. Of course you want to greet your customers, prepare them for takeoff and landing, and, later, wish them a nice day, but it’s how these salutations are delivered. They’re incredibly tedious.

      As to reports from economy class, here’s one, anyway:

  35. chandelle says:

    Patrick, I smiled as you mention ‘rude’ somewhere in that section about QR, because it’s not par for the course at all given that you’re caucasian who’re generally fawned upon by the stewardesses. It’s risibly ill-disguised, actually.

    I’ll never forget the story of my Indian colleague who boarded his Kuwait Airways flight at Kuwait City. He reached his economy class seat to discover a Brit seated there already. A quick check revealed that they had both indeed been allocated the same seat. When this was pointed out, the stewardess profusely apologized, ensured that my colleague got the seat and politely upgraded the Brit to business class. I wouldn’t want to term it racism and make it seem worse than it is but there’s a certain something about ethnicities and airlines in the Middle East that’s so ineffable that you ought to be tawny and live it to experience it. Ask me! 🙂

    • Dave T says:

      Racism? A “certain something”? Hardly. Seeing as how this man’s country helped liberate this airline’s country from under the grip of the brutal aggressor, Iraq, I’d say he should actually have been upgraded to first class.
      What did India ever do to help Kuwait?

    • PanDNewZealand says:

      Hello Chandelle, I struggle to understand your conclusion that the described situation was/is “ineffable”. Priority to the purchased product was given to a “colored” person over a “white” person. Isn’t this exactly the result persons of your ilk aspire to achieve?

  36. Leslie in Oregon says:

    Very interesting. Forty years ago, Cathay Pacific first class was rated best passenger experience in the world, with Singapore Airlines #2, in an informal but large survey of Pan Am crew (flight and cabin). (Pan Am was excluded as an option.)

  37. Extraordinary observations. I must appreciate.
    Top Management can learn a lot from these views.

  38. David Grossblat says:

    Thanks Patrick for a great piece. As always, I welcome – and appreciate – your derision of the A380, a plane whose exterior appears to need a lancing in order to return to its actual size. I recently flew on LH’s A380 from FRA to JNB in biz. LH is professional from start to finish – from loading to inflight meals, to setting up the chair for sleeping, and all of it done crisply and with a real committment to service. Meals were good, if not memorable. But the FA’s oftened walked the aisles often to assist, frequently serving water during the night flight. Announcements were few and limited to German and English. Biz seats, however, are not wide enough for real comfort. Layout is 2-2-2, using additional space that might have allowed for seats to accomodate both arms when lying flat, reducing sleeping choices to draping one’s arm over oneself or sleeping on one’s side. While I was impressed by LH’s reliability and punctuality, I was underwhelmed by its lack of flourish. EK it certainly was not.

  39. For airport lounges, you’ve got to try Istanbul (Ataturk, avoid the domestic airport). three floors, grills and kitchens going steadily at all hours producing tasty snacks. Great tables covered with teas, coffee of various types, cakes, pastries, bars (of course) a pool table and a library… I fly United and the various European Star carriers, all of which are at least partly owned by Lufthansa, except for Turkish, which stands out. The equipment is old, the seats are not so great, but the lounges in Europe are special.


  40. flymike says:

    Thanks for writing that. If nothing else it proves that the grass always looks greener on the other side.
    I recently rode United SFO-Tokyo and back, and while it wasn’t perfect, or even as nice as I expected, it was similar to your experiences. And I didn’t hear a screaming baby even once.

  41. erap says:

    “Asian” here being just Japan, Korea, HK, Taiwan, Singapore…

    I’m guessing you wouldn’t love the airport experience in most parts (non-primary airports) of India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, China, Myanmar, Vietnam, Philippines etc.

  42. gregorylent says:

    china vs america, in air travel .. china is so much easier .. of course, they are not bombing half a dozen countries, and so don’t need to guard against self-created enemies

  43. Tod Davis says:

    If you are looking at the Australian carriers then maybe you should be looking at Virgin Australia too. Unfortunately i have never flown any business class in my life but if domestic economy is anything to go by then Virgin could be better than Qantas

  44. Australians love to hate Qantas, but I’d be thrilled if any U.S. carrier consistently matched it. They crews are cheerful to the point of exuberant.

    • WildaBeast says:

      Agreed. I visited Australia in 2012. While long haul economy is probably a notch better on Qantas compared to their American competitors (the amenity kits including eye shades, toothpaste, and a toothbrush were a nice touch), it was on the domestic side where the difference was most striking.

      On JetStar from Sydney to Melbourne one of Australia’s low cost carriers, the service felt like a typical domestic flight on a US legacy — flight attendants came through once offering a complementary beverage.

      Then I flew Qantas from Darwin to Sydney a few weeks later. The flight was on a 737-800. Echoing what Patrick said in his post, a city the size of Darwin would probably be served mostly by regional jets (Granted, the distance involved probably precluded the use of an RJ in this case). As this was a redeye flight, there was a pillow and blanket on every seat. The plane was equipped with an entertainment system that rivaled that on my long haul flights. We were served a cold breakfast before landing. I think the Australians were disappointed that it wasn’t a hot breakfast, but I would be happy to get service half as good on a 4 hour domestic flight in economy class in the US.

  45. BHill says:

    You say the Qatar business class lounge is still under construction. This is not correct or accurate at all. The new business class lounge in Doha has been open since August 2014, or about 10 full month now. Only the First class lounge is still under construction. Strange your report is so factually inaccurate with regards to this point.

    • Patrick says:

      I said that it was under construction at the time of my flight. The lounge was not yet open and they were offering vouchers, exactly as I described. This was late last summer.

      The other flights all took place within the past few months. The ones with EK and SQ were only days ago.  

    • Jim Houghton says:

      You might want to revisit the very first sentence of the section about Qatar, especially that bit at the end with the little curvy things around it. Once you’ve been here a while, you’ll know that Patrick DOESN’T MAKE mistakes. :^ )

  46. Kevin Brady says:

    Pretty interesting Patrick,

    I remain a bit envious as I used to be able to fly them all, but will live vicariously thru you for now, or until someone wants to buy me tickets so I can test all the service. Airways magazine has someone do that and I can’t image anyone more qualified than you. Or maybe me.

    I have to say I was bit shocked by the inattentive service, especially Singapore. And not shocked like Renault at Cafe Americain. Truly shocked. Most of my flying was in the 90’s and 2000-2010 and it sounds like SQ has come downhill. They were the best, understated, elegant, impeccable service, and the beautiful “Singapore Girls.” Cathay and JAL were also excellent, and picking one of the three was splitting hairs. I did find that JAL’s business class was not nearly as good as the others mentioned but their first class was outstanding, maybe the best I’ve ever flown on. Alas now they have gone to mostly two-class service. And yes, I would put the first class service of Qantas, the old Swissair, and Lufthansa (excellent on the one flight I took) right up there. British Airways, their First Class had the original pod seats and they had the best liquor in the sky. I once was served a $295 bottle of rare scotch. The FA said, “Yyour holy water, sir.”

    But I am reminiscing. Patrick, you must be lonely, don’t you need a traveling companion?

  47. Julia says:

    I’m curious to know how many different airlines you have flown on now? I notice that on this page and on your Facebook page you frequently write about or post pictures from flights you have taken on different airlines.

    • Patrick says:

      I’ve always thought about making a list. So here let me give it a try. Keep in mind, though, that many of these were a long time ago. My flight with Air Canada, for example, was in 1982. Around a third these carriers are now defunct or were merged away. In no special order, and excluding regionals and commuters:

      American, Delta, United, Northwest, TWA, Pan Am, Eastern, Continental, Piedmont, Aloha, USAir/Airways, Southwest, JetBlue, ValuJet, Trump Shuttle, New York Air, Air Canada, AeroMexico, Cayman Airlines, British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa, SAS, TAP, Aeroflot, Sabena, Icelandair, South African, Kenya Airways, Korean Air, All Nippon, JAL, Qantas, Thai, Asiana, EVA Air, Royal Brunei, China Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Sri Lankan, Bangkok Airways, AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines, Aeropostal (Venezuela), Rutaca (Venezuela), AeroRepublica (Colombia), Sky Airline (Chile), Austral (Argentina), Fawcett (Peru), LAN Peru, Aeroamericana (Peru), SAETA (Ecuador), PLUNA (Uruguay), Turkish, EgyptAir, Royal Air Maroc, El Al, Air Malta.

      Notice how many of the big European airlines are missing. I’ve never flown KLM, Alitalia, Iberia or Swiss.

      • Gene says:

        No Western Airlines? I still remember when they got their B720s and later the DC10s. But I miss the Lockheed Electra most of all.

      • Kevin Brady says:

        Quite a list – I’ve only been on 22 of the ones you have been on but 38 others you haven, of which 24 are out of business or merged. Together ours would be quite a list – I’ve also not flown on Iberia, Alitalia, Sabena, Thai, Air India. But you have been on many more obscure or smaller carriers than I have. Prinnair was quite an experience when the mechanics had a gripe with management they put sand in a full tank, and one time between SJU-STT I swear our pilot was playing dog fight with another Prinnair plane. Thank God our pilot won 🙂

        • Patrick says:

          Prinair, it was called. Puerto Rico International Airlines. I remember them well. They flew a real rara avis, the de Havilland (Riley) DH.114 Heron, a 17-seater with four piston engines!

          I remember, during a trip to San Juan with my parents and my sister in 1980, all the Herons lined up on the apron. Prinair painted each one a different color.

          • Kevin Brady says:

            You should put together and airline quiz – Ill bet you know some obscure facts that few other do – I did that with some of my airline friends, mostly about defunct airlines from the 70’s and 80’s such as Ozark, Empire, Hughes Airwest, Capitol, et al.

            P- you have never flown on Eastern? that would be a big surprise as they had a strong schedule out of Logan

          • Patrick says:

            I did quizzes two or three times when I was writing for Salon. The problem is that everyone cheats and uses Google. It’s almost impossible to concoct a Google-proof quiz these days.

            Did I forget to include Eastern on my list? I flew Eastern several times. 727, L-1011, A300. I’ll add them in. I also forgot EVA Air, I notice.

      • Dan Prall says:

        I have eleven of Patrick’s, as well as Braniff, Swissair, Mexicana, and the original Frontier. Do MATS, MAC, TAC Air, HUEYs with the 101st Airborne and 25th Infantry divisions, and a Birddog in the 8th Infantry count?

      • James says:

        I note you have none of the Virgin family. That’s a shame. Domestically, Virgin America is my strong preference. And when I go to Europe, it is usually Virgin Atlantic — yes, business class. Based on your descriptions, it sounded on par with the others; Skytrax does rate it ahead of Emirates and Cathay Pacific.

        And, if you’ve not seen this site, may I recommend ? I don’t recall all the airlines I’ve flown, I let it do it for me. (Lake Central was the first, back in 1965. Smallest was Air Excel from ARK to SEU; the pilot put me in the back and told me the door didn’t latch well, could I hold it closed? )

      • Tod Davis says:

        No Alaska Airlines on your list, in my limited experience traveling internally in the USA Alaska was head and shoulders above anyone else for service

      • OK, I’ll take a crack at it. First commercial flight, Summer 1961. Western Electra OAK-LAX, BOAC 707 over the Pole to London. And from then:

        Boxing the compass: North Central, Northeast, Eastern, Southern, Southwest, Western (I wonder who got all those autographed celebrity photo from the LAX lounge), America West, Northwest.

        Transcontinentals: Continental (“Proud Bird with the Golden Tail”), National (“Fly Me, I’m …”), American, United, Delta, Braniff, TWA, USAir.

        Regionals: Hughes AirWest, Capitol, Midway, Golden West, Allegheny (white knuckles through Ernest Gann country on those damned BAC 111s), Mohawk (ditto), Republic, Ozark, PSA (oh, man, the FAs), Piedmont, Trans Texas AKA Texas Treetops (ditto on the FAs), Desert Sun (which once sold the copilot seat at Lancaster on an Inyokern to LAX flight).

        International: Pan Am, Lufthansa, Alitalia, Sabena, SAS, KLM, Swissair, BOAC, BA, BEA, JAL.

        Oddball: SFO Helicopters, C&M (Charlie and Mike) LAX to Inyokern.

        Which I reckon as 41. Plus USAF: C-47, C-119, T-29 (Affectionately known as the “707” because it took seven hours and seven minutes to fly from Randolph to Andrews AFBs. Which I did a lot.)

        And no, I’ve never watched Mad Men. I don’t have to. I was there 🙂

      • Anonymous says:

        Now that you’ve added EAL and Eva (you’ve got Eva twice) you top me on airlines flown 61-60, but only 23 common between us. You haven’t flown Hawaiian? I didn’t count NY Airways as they are only helicopters (I’ve flown on 6 different helicopter companies, but don’t count them) a Bombardier corporate jet and Challenger which I don’t count, and one hot air balloon, which crash landed as the basket flipped over. I always regret not taking Fawcett Airlines where I was invited by a sales rep on a fam trip (one of the cutest girls I’ve ever seen) and we were to take a three hour “cruise” down the Amazon to a remote site where we would need mosquito nets, see piranha (the thought of them gives me the willies), and the deepest part of the jungle. Probably on the African Queen. I’ve only been to 41 countries though. I need to get moving. Maybe 42 if you count Vatican City, which I believe is a country, the smallest in the world.

        Have you been to all 50 states? My friend John has. I’m missing Alaska, New Mexico and the Dakotas. you should do all 50 before you are 50. too late for me. but overall, not bad for someone who isn’t a pilot?

        • Patrick says:

          I’ll fix the EVA Air dupe. And shoot, I forgot to include New York Air. They were one of Lorenzo’s airlines. Mid-1980s. They flew DC-9s and MD-80s and maybe a 737 or two, I can’t remember. Their air traffic control call sign was “Apple.”

  48. Anonymous says:

    I’m not sure I would ever take much notice of the Skytrax ratings. Certainly in Europe, there are a few 4* airlines that do not deserve to be rated higher than 3* American carriers.

    I suspect that for some people asked, giving their “national flag carrier” a high rating would be matter of national pride.

  49. Jeremy says:

    Hey, I’m sad to hear about your not-as-glamorous experience on Singapore Airlines. But by the sounds of it, it was probably just one bad flight. They all happen, but now I am interested in trying Cathay, (I’m from Australia so it’ll be pretty effective.)

    Good job Patrick as always.

  50. Colin Seftel says:

    I enjoyed the article. Of the carriers you reported on, I have only flown Emirates in business and my experience exactly matched yours.

    Regarding your comments on the Skytrax awards, remember that they are based on all classes of travel and I suspect, give more weight to the feedback they get from passengers in coach.

    My most recent flight in business class was ORD-LHR on American, and I was very pleasantly surprised! While the seating in their B772 doesn’t match the airlines you reviewed, the cabin service was excellent. The fillet steak I ordered on the recommendation of the flight attendant was restaurant quality – the first time I have ever been served an unruined steak on a flight. Finally, the Bose headphones, which I haven’t seen on any other airline, are truly amazing for their noise elimination (not reduction) ability and the studio-quality sound.

    • Patrick says:

      That’s a good point about SkyTrax. I think U.S. airlines have come a long way in coach as well, but the European and Asian carriers probably have the edge. Some of them, at any rate. In the past couple of years I’ve flown economy on Korean, Thai, All Nippon, JAL, Royal Brunei, China Airlines, Sri Lankan, Emirates and SAS — and probably one or two others I’m forgetting. On the whole these experiences were SLIGHTLY better than what I’d get on my own airline. Emirates and Korean were the best. SAS was terrible. Again though, it can really vary with the route and aircraft type.

      • Ma Zhenguo says:

        My experience of flying long-haul economy on Delta was much, much better than the (overrated?) one on Cathay Pacific. But, like you said, it varies a lot depending on route etc.
        But I have to admit I had very low expectations about Delta and very high expectations about Cathay before, so my opinion is probably biased (a bit at least).

  51. Mat says:

    You can save yourself Lufthansa, it is not all that great. Try air Canada instead, in the 787.

    As for eco, aren’t they all the same anyways apart from movie selection? Art last in my experience that is the case.

  52. John says:

    That was interesting.

    Now do some reporting for the 99% of us who will never fly in business class on a long-haul flight.

    Tell people who are going to St. Louis or Seattle with an economy ticket about which airlines are the least painful.

    Does anybody give you a bag of peanuts, anymore? Who charges you the least for things like breathing? Who has the least-small seats?

    • Andy says:

      Haha. This is like asking whether you would prefer the rack, or the iron maiden.

    • Pam says:

      Thank you John for representing the common people.

      • John says:

        I suppose I could have gotten up and asked for something to drink, but the slime in front of me didn’t look any more tempting when it was hot than when it cooled to cabin temperature. On the return flight, I had to ask 3 times to get the scotch I was hoping for before the meal, ending up with it as dessert.