The world's best this, the world's best that. Everyone has an opinion. But those opinions only accrue real value when they're aggregated with those of other people, and preferably other people with first-hand experience of the matter being judged.
Which is a long way of saying that when more than 200,000 Travel + Leisure readers weigh in on the world's best airlines, the results warrant consideration.
Best Domestic Airlines
Travel + Leisure prefaces its Best Domestic Airlines report with this: "How a little friendly competition is making the skies a more pleasant place for travelers." Competition? Pleasant skies?
But first the results, beginning with the best:
- Virgin America
- Hawaiian Airlines
- Alaska Airlines
It's no surprise that Virgin America came out on top in T+L's poll; it's been in that position since 2008, and the airline is consistently among the best-rated in other consumer surveys as well. Strong arguments also can be made for the other contenders.
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But for all its credibility as a travel publication, T+L stumbles badly in its rosy assessment of the state of the U.S. airline industry. Apparently buying the self-serving line advanced by the airlines and their lobbyists, air travel is deemed "incredibly competitive." That at a time when more than 80 percent of the country's domestic traffic is controlled by just four airlines. So, at the macro level, T+L has it exactly wrong.
The publication is equally misguided at the micro level, asserting that "Alaska's acquisition of Virgin promises to please fans of both brands by expanding the network of routes and increasing opportunities to score miles. The merger is certain to encourage other airlines to step up their game."
In fact, the merger of Alaska and Virgin America is likely to be a net negative for travelers. The overall effect will be a lessening of competition, as the number of competitors continues to decline. "Competition" and "consolidation" both start with a "c." Let's not confuse them.
Best International Airlines
For its review of the best international carriers, T+L prefaces its findings thusly: "These airlines are out to prove the glamour of flying isn't a thing of the past." No argument there. And not much to quibble about with the results, either.
Based on a combination of cabin comfort, in-flight service, customer service, and overall value, the top 10 were:
- Virgin Atlantic
- Cathay Pacific
- Air New Zealand
- Eva Air
- Porter Airlines
The story line here is the continued incursion by the Middle East carriers into the top ranks of luxe airlines, a category once almost exclusively dominated by carriers from the Asia-Pacific region.
Reader Reality Check
How do T+L's results compare to your own assessment of the world's best airlines?
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