I wanted to share an updated list of my favorite airline brands. I'm curious to hear how my preferences compare to those of other aviation nerds.

What makes a great airline brand?

Some might argue that the perception of brands is irrational.

The world's best first class products, the world's best first class lounges, and the world's best business class seats are all ranked by me.

I am not suggesting that these are the world's best airlines, but that these are the airline brands that get me most excited. This can be for a number of reasons.

  • Because they offer a great passenger experience, including a good hard product, excellent service, etc.
  • Because they are based in cool places, and connect awesome parts of the world
  • Because they do a great job with their marketing and overall brand presence
  • Because they’re super global, and whenever I fly with them I feel a sense of excitement and wanderlust
  • Because they are airlines I have special memories on, either because of the onboard experience, or because of where I traveled on them

I'm all over the place with regards to how an airline can land on my list. If someone asked me what my favorite airline in the world is, I'm pretty sure it would be an airline on the list.

My nine favorite airline brands in the world

Let's get into the rankings with the above out of the way. There are a few things to note.

  • I apologize in advance for the lack of geographic diversity, as all but two airlines are based in Asia; perhaps I should make a separate list with my favorite airline brand from each continent
  • Admittedly the pandemic has changed some aspects of airlines (at least temporarily), so I won’t be fully factoring that in here
  • Let’s leave politics out of this, please

My favorite airline brands are ranked by preference.

Turkish Airlines

Turkish Airlines is at the top of my list, but I think it strikes a special balance.

  • Turkish Airlines is the most global airline in the world, flying to more countries than any other airline
  • Istanbul is such an amazing, dynamic global hub; I’d even argue it’s kind of the center of the world
  • Turkish Airlines has the world’s best business class catering
  • In general I find Turkish people to be among the most genuinely hospitable and competent in the world, and I love how much that’s integrated into the Turkish Airlines experience; many other global airlines “import” staff from other parts of the world, but when you fly Turkish Airlines you really feel like you’re in Turkey

I get this special feeling when I fly Turkish Airlines, knowing that I can fly anywhere in the world from one stop.

Turkish Airlines 787 business class

Qatar Airways

The airline is elegant and sophisticated. It is not another airline that offers such a consistent and impressive premium cabin experience as that of Qatar Airways. When you have Qsuites, there is no need for first class, which is quite a testament to what the airline has to offer.

Qatar Airways A350 Qsuites business class

The Hamad International Airport is a good hub, and I feel like the travel experience is pleasant and consistent. I love marketing for Qatar Airways. Don't ask me how much time I spend listening to music on a plane, because it's a lot.

Singapore Airlines

I think Singapore Airlines is one of the two most instantly recognizable airlines in the world. For the past couple of decades, Singapore Airlines has been considered to be one of the best airlines in the world, and the airline has done a great job maintaining its position.

Singapore Changi is arguably the best airport in the world, and the Singapore Airlines inflight experience is industry-leading in all cabins. Singapore Airlines staff are the most professional of any airline out there. When boarding Singapore Airlines first class, you are asked if you like Dom Perignon or Krug.

Singapore Airlines A380 Suites first class

Starlux Airlines

How could an airline startup have so few planes? A lot of people don't understand my obsession with Starlux Airlines. This airline is in a league of its own, and I had the chance to fly it shortly after it launched.

While most new airlines are budget carriers, Starlux wants to become a luxury airline.

I can't wait until this airline expands into long haul markets once it takes delivery of A350s.

I love the story of how the airline started. The founder of Starlux was ousted as CEO of EVA Air by his three half-siblings. He vowed to start his own airline after that. I like a good revenge airline.

Starlux Airlines A321neo business class

Emirates Airline

The style of the company is over substance to some extent. The airline has a halo effect from its first class and A380s, but it has a subpar business class product on its 777s, which are the core of the fleet.

It's pretty darn cool. The Middle East has been put on the map as a global transit hub by the airline. It is not an airline in the world that is as recognizable to people as Emirates is.

There may be some style over substance, but the A380 onboard shower, minibars, and onboard bar are still mighty cool.

Emirates A380 first class shower

Cathay Pacific

I love Cathay Pacific because of the airline, and I also love Hong Kong because of it. Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities in the world because it is the first city I ever visited in Asia. I am at least connecting in Hong Kong when I fly Cathay Pacific, and that gets me excited.

Approaching Hong Kong, my favorite view in the world

There is a great experience at Hong Kong International Airport, which is also an awesome transit hub, as well as a great first class experience at Cathay Pacific. I fear that my love affair may be coming to an end, and that Hong Kong and Cathay Pacific may never be the same. That makes me sad.

Cathay Pacific 777 first class

Air France

I think that part of Air France is emotional and part is rational. There is a halo effect that Air France benefits from because the French excel at food, wine, fashion, and confidence. I love Air France's marketing, and the safety video is fun. Why don't you smoke on the plane? It's not chic, of course.

Air France has a lot going for it, and the airline gets better by the day. You probably won't be impressed if you visit the Air France Lounge Toronto or fly an Air France A321. Air France has the world's best first class lounge, one of the world's best inflight first class products, and the airline keeps improving.

Air France is introducing a new business class with doors, a new first class product, the airline is refreshing many of its lounges, and it is refreshing its short haul fleet with A 220s. In my opinion, Air France is moving upwards.

Air France 777 La Premiere first class

All Nippon Airways

I wrestled with whether to include ANA or JAL on the list. Japan is a one-of-a-kind place and a Japanese airline has to be on the list. Japanese culture is reflected in both of Japan's global airlines.

I put ANA on this list because the airline introduced some incredible new first class and business class products on its 777s. I can't wait for the feeling of boarding a flight to Japan again, but the country is still closed to most visitors.

ANA 777 business class

Oman Air

When people think of Gulf airlines, they usually think of the big three. There is a boutique Gulf airline that I love, and that is Oman Air.

There is a new airport in the city of Muscat, and the airline has business class rooms. I like how the culture of Omanis is integrated into the experience more than other Gulf carriers. A lot of the cabin crew on the airline are actually from the sultanate. I also like the music of Oman Air.

I can't wait to fly the airline again, I have always enjoyed my flights there.

Oman Air 787 business class

Since we are all looking for different things, any sort of airline ranking is subjective. That is even more true when we are talking about perception of airline brands. There are a variety of reasons airlines made my list.

I think the above airlines are well rounded, though I'm not suggesting you think they're the best in the world. Some airlines made my list because of the experience they offer, some because of where they are based, and some because of special experiences I have had on the airline.

What are your favorite airline brands?