a man standing in front of a wall with art

People often ask me if I have a “favorite” airline. I don’t officially, but I have parts of each that I love. For some light reading, I thought it would be fun to piece together my own airline,  through the lens of what I think a few do particularly well.

Basically, if I could steal bits from pre-existing airlines and snap them into place to make one perfect entity. The post is particularly topical for me, since China Eastern launched a new airline called OTT Airlines, which sent those vanity hopes of my own OTT Airlines officially packing…

a hand holding a cell phoneWebsite/App

Delta and American Airlines are really strong here.

I love the simplicity of the Delta website and the layman language used to help simplify each part of the transaction and search process, in addition to a useful low fare finder. It’s visual, it’s clear and it’s always improving.

American Airlines has excelled in the airline app world, and they’d be a good blueprint of where to start and build from. American was among the first to offer in app bag tracking and easy same day change options, and if more integration was added for loyalty program stuff, it’d be a slam dunk.

a couple of women wearing red uniforms holding drinksCustomer Service

I often say it’s not when things go wrong, but what happens afterwards, or when you need help. Virgin Atlantic would be my blueprint here.

Virgin Atlantic gives you multiple touch points, so you can receive customer service and even complete bookings via text, online chat and phone, and the airline created a closed loop system where no “detractor” aka frustrated customer goes without a response, even before their flight back.

The airline has also been among the strongest to empower front line employees to do the “right thing” rather than telling people to pound dirt. When things go wrong, you want them to be right the first time, not after the 15th letter.

Loyalty Program

Loyalty programs should be simple, effective two way streets to encourage business. Singapore Airlines is one of the first that springs to mind, for building off of. If I had to consider a few others, I’d look at ANA and Delta.

Singapore Airlines makes loyalty feel rewarding by keeping the cash part of redeeming miles inconsequential. Who wants to pay $1000 in fees for a business class ticket using points? I’d rather pay more miles and feel I got something “free” than feel like I got a minor discount.

But then flexibility is key for many travelers, and that’s where Delta excels, offering the option to use Skymiles at 1 cent a piece toward any purchase, so 100,000 miles would get you $1000 off, etc. Having both is valuable and both airlines have created extra value for members via Singapore Spontaneous Escapes and Delta SkyMiles Flash Deals.

Finally, I admire ANA for preserving excellent value for their members – aka not needing that many points for great things – by not taking the easy money of constantly selling miles. It’s not a very user friendly program, but for those who earn in it, value, trust and transparency are very much there.

Combine them all, and you might have a very compelling value proposition for flyers.

a plane with a red logo on itAirline Fleet

New fleets are nice for more than one reason. New planes offer air pressure which leaves the body in better shape, in addition to offering better humidity and air quality, plus reduced noise and room for new electronic spec.

I’m a huge fan of both the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 for these reasons, but will always have a fondness for the Airbus A380 super jumbo as well. When you think about fleets along those lines, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines both come to mind.

The super jumbo may have numbered days, but it provides incredible novelty to travelers, and I’d argue that Qatar Airways on board bar is the best of them all. With so many routes serviced by either A350 or 787, customers on these airlines will have a solid decade of state of the art flying.

a room with red chairs and a black and white floorLounge Facilities

You’ve got to admire the scale and spec that many of the Gulf carriers have been able to build with their lounges, but it’s almost an unfair advantage, being as the airports were built specifically for them. Nonetheless, I love lounges in Doha, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

But in terms of airlines making incredible use of the spaces they have, I can’t think of anyone doing it better than Qantas, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific.

Qantas’ First Class lounges are incredibly on point with white jacket service, seasonal food lead by a team of actual chefs, and the design elements make them feel like a chic hotel. Speaking of which, much of the same could be said for Cathay Pacific, particularly in Hong Kong and London.

Virgin Atlantic also makes business class lounges feel incredibly first class,  particularly in the London Heathrow Clubhouse with a la carte waiter service, rotating local cocktail collaborations and fantastic “vibe”. Let’s put them all together in a design and service love-child and that’s a banging combo.

a row of seats in a planeEconomy Cabin

Virgin Atlantic, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Delta or Singapore Airlines. Tangle them all together and there’s a winner.

Singapore Airlines leads the pack with the most spacious economy, including well placed features like power ports and drink holders. Emirates offers among the largest entertainment screens and best legroom, thanks in part to the A380. They both give passengers a reasonable amount of space and comfort

Qatar Airways new seat takes the most divergent new approach to the economy cabin, with Qsine dining and ergonomic features that make seats feel more comfortable than most.

Delta and Virgin Atlantic have stepped up amenities, including welcome drinks and printed menus.  They make you feel the most welcomed of the pack in economy with customer service and little extras.

I’d like my airline to fly with a mix of elements from Singapore, Qatar and Emirates hard product – aka seat stuff – and then I’ll add in the nice touches from Virgin, Delta and Singapore to make it feel like something much more.

a row of seats in an airplanePremium Economy

Singapore Airlines sets the bar, and hardly anyone else comes close. There’s book the cook meal orders, champagne and Singapore Slings served in premium and always the latest and greatest in seats and entertainment.

Bring in a few elements or ideas from JAL/ANA and maybe Cathay Pacific and you’ve got a winning formula to bring sophistication and comfort to one of the more affordable cabins.

The one area which I think would still need some addressing would be the in-flight entertainment, which can be limited on these airlines. For whatever reason, US airlines seem to have more choice in film and TV, so I’d probably just steal their IFE content and put it on board!

a seat in an airplaneBusiness Class

It’s Qatar Airways or ANA, and you really can’t go wrong either way. The “Qsuite” legitimately brings elements typically reserved for first class to business class, and the same could be said for ANA with “The Room”.

Seat or not, Qatar Airways is the mold because they cracked “dine on demand”, a concept many airlines have tried and failed to deliver. Service is typically fast, consistent and at a very high standard of sophistication.

ANA broke the mold with their Acumen designed “The Room”, bringing extraordinary new levels to space, privacy and comfort. Pair these on board offerings with the lounge innovators mentioned above and people will be lining up, I’d hope at least.

a bed with a television on itFirst Class

Singapore, Etihad or Emirates, you can’t go wrong and you’d hardly ever be disappointed. Singapore offers the most space with their ultra massive new suites and Etihad is a close second with the First Apartment, but Emirates keeps the bar so high with everything else.

The Emirates A380 shower is one of the most unique pleasures in the sky, and for anyone trying to look remotely fresh after 14 hours in the air, it’s an absolute triumph. Emirates partnerships with Dom Perignon has lead to masterful food and beverage pairings and the amenity kits are wowing all to themselves.

The Emirates chauffeur drive makes the experience even more seamless, feeling like a complete journey on all ends. Both Emirates and Singapore do a fantastic job of displaying potential menu items beforehand and making customers salivate – for the drinks or the food – before the flight is even on the horizon.

What would your dream team airline combos be?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Don’t JetBlue and JAL have the roomiest seats in coach where most people fly? I’d take that part from them.

    Loyalty program-wise I’d say Alaska has about the best between good redemption rates and earning based on flying rather than how much cash you’re shoveling into the airline’s pocket. Additionally they allow elite earning with partners. If possible, try to hire some Starwood people to run the program.

    Service is tougher but I’d go with EVA or Cathay. Both have been superb in my experience. Garuda gets an honorary mention.

    1. I think you’ve got the right idea with GO. It’ll be my Virgin.

      I could then start a homewear brand called GO Home, and a hotel in Helsinki, called GO to HEL and constantly amuse myself with each venture haha.

  2. Emirates’ first class seat (the one pictured) is so outdated, and SQ’s ain’t much better. I would pick LX.

  3. For what it’s worth, I fly Avianca quite a bit to South America & I find their employees in flight & on the ground are always really good regardless of which class you fly. (The upper mgt. of the company is another story.) Just my take.

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