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Travelers who are on the fence about flying again may want to check out a new list of the world’s best airlines.

The airline safety website published its list of “Top Airlines in the World,” which traditionally ranks carriers by safety, in-flight service, passenger comfort and flight routes.

But this year, new judging criteria are shaking up the rankings. For the first time, airlines are being judged in part by how they responded to the Covid-19 global pandemic.

“Covid impacted the ratings in two ways,” said Editor-in-Chief Geoffrey Thomas. “Airlines had to be Covid-compliant to our standards to be considered, and we deleted profitability as a criterion this year.”

And the winner is…

Qatar Airways took the No. 1 spot this year, named “Airline of the Year” by the website.

The Doha-based carrier was awarded the top prize due to its cabin innovation, in-flight service and “dedication and commitment to continue to operate throughout the Covid pandemic,” according to the site’s announcement on July 20.

Doha-based Qatar Airways was launched in the mid-1990s and currently flies to more than 140 destinations.
Courtesy of Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways also introduced industry firsts, said, such as being the first to complete the International Air Transport Association’s safety audit and among the first to trial its Covid Safe Travel Pass.

Qatar Airways also has one of the world’s youngest fleets, the announcement said.

The rest of the list

Here’s the full list, following by each airline’s position last year:

1. Qatar Airways (9)

2. Air New Zealand (1)

3. Singapore Airlines (2)

4. Qantas (4)

5. Emirates (6)

6. Cathay Pacific (5)

7. Virgin Atlantic (7)

8. United Airlines (N/A)

9. EVA Air (8)

10. British Airways (17)

11. Lufthansa (11)

12. ANA, or All Nippon Airways (3)

13. Finnair (12)

14. Japan Airlines (13)

15. KLM (14)

16. Hawaiian Airlines (16)

17. Alaska Airlines (18)

18. Virgin Australia (10)

19. Delta Air Lines (19)

20. Etihad Airways (20)

Most carriers maintained a similar position as they did in the 2020 list. Still, Qatar Airways jumped eight places to clinch the top spot, a position typically dominated by Air New Zealand.

“Air New Zealand has been our ‘Airline of the Year’ in six of the last eight years because of its outstanding innovation and cabin service,” Thomas said.

Qatar Airways’ much-lauded Qsuites, which feature double beds and privacy panels to create a private room, have earned the airline “Best Business Class” accolades for three years in a row.
Courtesy of Qatar Airways

British Airways jumped seven places in the rankings to No. 10, while United leaped to No. 8, after not making the 2020 list at all.

Only airlines with seven safety stars are considered for the annual list. That rating is based on crash history, pilot-related incidents, government audits — and now Covid protocols, such as social distancing, aircraft cleaning and masked cabin crew.

Fewer than 150 of the 350-some airlines evaluated by have seven stars. Eight airlines have just one star, according to the website.

The company said rankings, which are judged by the website’s editors, also consider airline service, staff engagement and passenger feedback.

Excellence Awards

Individual carriers are also singled out for “Airline Excellence Awards” for superior service and products. This year’s awards went to:

Best first class: Singapore Airlines

Best business class: Qatar Airways

Best premium economy class: Air New Zealand

Best economy class: Air New Zealand

Best low-cost airline in Asia-Pacific: Jetstar

Best low-cost airline in Europe: EasyJet

Best low-cost airline in the Americas: Southwest

Best ultra-low-cost airline: Vietjet Air          

Best regional airline: Qantas

Best cabin crew: Virgin Australia

Best lounges: Qantas

In-flight catering award: Qatar

In-flight entertainment award: Emirates

Separately, issues an annual “Top Twenty Safest Airlines” list that analyzes crash records and safety compliance. Next year, it too will factor in Covid compliance measures by the airlines, said Thomas.

That list is expected in January 2022.  

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