Can flying be fun? The answer depends on your carrier of choice. Certain airlines are shaking up the industry with creative flyer-friendly amenities, comfortable cabins, and pleasant service—and they're keeping prices low too. Some are rolling out onboard magicians. Others are reinventing economy cabins. All in all, it's some really cool stuff. Find out which airlines, from small carriers to major international ones, are infusing air travel with comfort and joy.
I flew on Turkish about a month ago. I couldn't get enough of the special little touches that distinguish the flying experience on this Star Alliance carrier, which flies to more countries than any other airline on the planet (257 destinations in 107 nations). High-quality onboard service includes a varied array of special meals cooked by fancy-hat-wearing sky chefs and a seatback screen system that allows passengers to check email and send text messages. One of the airlines' most exciting innovations is its recently expanded state-of-the-art business-class lounge at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport. It is, arguably, the world's greatest airline lounge. The two-story megalounge is outfitted with a playground, showers, massage beds, a golf simulator, food stations serving fresh regional foods, and even private little rooms with beds for naps. It's worth repeating: nap beds!
Picture a plane with 32-inch economy-class seat pitch and no middle seats. Throw in amenities like lounge access for all passengers (Porter lounges have free Wi-Fi) and complimentary beer and wine. At this point, economy class—normally a hell on earth of sorts—isn't looking so bad. Furthermore, fares are consistently affordable: Porter regularly offers percentage discounts on already-low base fares. In the past, we've seen promotions featuring 45 and even 50 percent off ticket prices. Given all this, is anyone surprised that Conde Nast Traveler picked Porter as the world's best small airline in its 2013 Readers' Choice Awards?
Emirates is on its way to becoming the world's largest airline within a decade. However, the ever-expanding international juggernaut manages to balance profits with pizzazz, promising an upscale, comfortable experience for passengers of all classes, despite its size. This is especially true for those flying on the airline's awesome jumbo jets. On the Emirates Dallas-to-Dubai route, for example, double-decker A380 planes feature premium-class onboard lounges, shower spas, and complimentary wine and cocktails for even the economy set. Emirates' commitment to customer-friendly travel extends to families, too. From a wide array of children's TV shows to complementary activity backpacks for kiddos to a special frequent-flyer program for young travelers, Emirates makes an effort to improve the air-travel experience for flyers big and small.
I have to admit, I love JetBlue. The following features are likely to place you firmly in the JetBlue fan camp with yours truly: one free checked bag, free DIRECTV, friendly employees, and super-fast Wi-Fi (JetBlue calls it "Fly-Fi") on some planes. (The airline is working on installing Fly-Fi on its entire Airbus fleet by the end of the year.) But beyond all this awaits something even greater: lie-flat transcontinental seats for really cheap prices. JetBlue's new Mint class features fully flat seats on flights between New York and Los Angles, starting at the phenomenal promotional rate of $599 each way.
Comfortable transatlantic flying at affordable prices—that's the OpenSkies war cry in a nutshell. Once an all-business-class airline, OpenSkies rolled out a comparatively comfortable economy class in 2012. The British Airways subsidiary, which dubs its coach section "Eco Class," offers personal preloaded iPads and leather seats for economy travelers. Furthermore, the coach section is pretty small, so it feels more like an intimate upper class than a teeming cattle car. But the best part, arguably, is the hassle-free experience at the airport. OpenSkies passengers flying out of Newark and Paris Orly get to skip longer security lines for a special, much shorter TSA security processing. And the fares? They're great. Right now, for example, OpenSkies is selling PremPlus fares (the seats recline a full 130 degrees) between New York and Paris starting at $1,299 round-trip.
Virgin America is a true pioneer when it comes to the flyer experience. The airline was one of the first to wow passengers with mood lighting and comprehensive onboard entertainment. If you've been on a Virgin plane, you know what I mean: There's Wi-Fi. There are plugs. There are cool tech features like touch screens that permit passengers to order drinks and food without having to wait 45 minutes for a flight attendant to pass by. And the purple lighting—whether you love it or hate it—definitely sets this flyer-friendly carrier apart from the legacy pack. New in Virgin's world is a redesigned boarding pass that easily fits into a pant pocket and a revamped website (currently in beta) that Virgin hopes will ease the booking process. And Virgin recently celebrated its first year of profitability, so with any luck, its customer-friendly business model is here to stay.
Asian airlines often dominate Skytrax awards and readers' choice lists, and Asiana, the Star Alliance South Korean airline, is no exception. Asiana just revamped its A380 planes, adding first-class suites that have doors, closets, and beds; starlit cabin ceilings; real ovens for cooking food; and even social areas with bars and lounges. But what really sets this carrier apart from the pack is the addition of flying magicians who perform magic shows for kids. (Or anyone who wants to watch, really.) We can't think of a more joyful and unique way to pass the time on a long flight.
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title These Awesome Airlines Will Make You Love Flying Again.
(Photo: Image Source/Getty Images)