This month TheDesignAir takes a look at everything that airlines should be. Airlines we want to travel with, and are going above and beyond to create something truly unique in the sky. Our judges have voted and, interestingly, our top 10 all fit within just a 6 percent margin, and, yet again, we haven’t been able to just fit in 10 but, for the second year running, 11 carriers have made our list. While there are some familiar faces, there are some new entries too, and each has been vetted for a series of important factors, including design, aesthetic, service, reputation and innovation.
9. [joint] Qatar Airways [-3]
Qatar Airways, like rival Etihad, had a great year in 2014, the A380 joined its fleet, and the A350 has started flying for it earlier this year. While not having an offering as dynamic as Etihad’s, this airline is still one carrier that our judges love to fly, and its new products are sheer excellence. Just as it showcases its A350, it announces a brand new Business Class concept for 2016, showing its dedication to offering the very best in the sky. Even though this is a more understated Middle Eastern carrier, the airline continues to win awards for its service and product, its lounges are real show-stoppers for us, and the gigantic Doha lounge in no exception. Like last year, it has featured in countless Top 10 lists with thedesignair.net, and it will no doubt feature in many more this year.
9. [joint] Virgin America [-2]
This is one airline that the whole of America should fly at least once. Why? Because it would make Americans see what flying should be like, compared to the ageing domestic cabins of other major US carriers. To be fair, the latter are lifting their game, but Virgin America provided good reason for them to have to. While it still only has a comparatively small fleet, Virgin America continues to expand and bolster its current routes, making it the current airline of choice on many US routes. Many critics have praised the airline for its product, but it has even proved critics wrong by posting a wave of profitable months, proving that being cool can still be profitable.
9. [joint] Cathay Pacific [new]
A new entry, and only just missing out our Top 10 last year, Cathay Pacific needs to be celebrated for offering a truly awesome product. The recent design direction of the airline seems to have encapsulated the spirit of Mad Men, with a cool retro-nod design. It is perhaps the most tactile airline around, with a wash of different finishes both on the ground and in the air. Cabins are effortlessly designed, and it has one of the best business classes we have flown by far. A wave of new lounges (including the beautiful Tokyo Haneda one) and product upgrades last year have firmly cemented the airline in our Top 10 list; we hope that it will continue to rise up the ranks.
7. [joint] Fiji Airways [+2]
A joint 7th place here for Fiji Airways. Our judges are still in love with that ‘new plane smell’ of this boutique pacific carrier. Excellent service, warm honest smiling crews and excellent fresh food onboard sit as crowning glories of a modern, and whiter-than-white plane interior for Fiji Airways. The new culturally-rooted branding is super cool too, mixing heritage and contemporary in their look, which, along with the iconic new livery and uniforms, makes the airline a secret designer gem that is dying to be explored. This is one airline that you would want to fly all around the world but, sadly, it has limited long haul routes. Our only gripe is that the beds in business class could be fully flat; but don’t be disheartened, even as lie-flat beds (the same used in regional Singapore Airlines cabins), they are super comfortable. They must be doing something right, after just posting their first profit share too!
7. [joint] China Airlines [new]
Talk about a quantum leap in airline image. This carrier definitely deserves a place in our list. Before last year, the airline wouldn’t have been on our radar at all, and, While there was a decent enough service in their business class product, the fleet was ageing and was in no sense groundbreaking. But China Airlines has invested into a NextGen program that has radically changed its image. New 777s have joined the fleet with their fully-flat business class suites, premium economy, economy sky-couch seats and an onboard bar. On the ground, slick, luxurious lounges have taken centre stage in Taiwan, offering a designer’s paradise. The airline has invested heavily into its new image, and has really concentrated on what passengers want. Most importantly, this has worked. While it’s only the start, and only a couple of routes feature the new product, this carrier will eventually be one to watch out for.
6. Hawaiian Airlines [+4]
Here’s one airline that may be having a bit of a refresh in 2015. One of our favorite pacific airlines, Hawaiian has proven itself as a truly cool carrier spanning the Pacific, thus climbing the list a little. With the introduction of O’hana by Hawaiian, refreshed A330 cabins and new lounges in Honolulu, the airline is investing into keeping its product contemporary. The brand, which had a growth spurt last year, has an iconic livery that always brings a smile to our face when we see it pulling into a stand at an airport. But the constant investment into the product is what we applaud, from the excellent dining options to the inflight entertainment, to its extra legroom economy seating. No wonder the airline keeps on winning awards in North America every year.
5. British Airways [-1]
Under the direction of creative director Richard Stevens, British Airways has managed to turn its image around. With the advent of refreshed, larger first class cabins on their A380s and updated Club World seating on their 787s and A380s, the airline has reacted to public demand and consumer expectations. This sleek airline has shaken off its dated image and, over the past few years, has injected something new into the mix. While Richard has yet to fully leave his mark, we know that the airline is changing its mindset to become more modern, and hopefully, in a few years’ time, it will be rising up the ranks in our lists. But, for now, this is one airline that is still a treat to fly with when jetting off around the world.
3. [joint] Singapore Airlines [-1]
Featuring in our list yet again this year, this industry leading airline still deserves its mention in our Top 10 cool airlines. Unlike our top two, which have worked hard to show what it takes to be a dynamic and noticeable airline, Singapore Airlines has managed to effortlessly maintain its reputation as one of the best airlines in the sky, quietly launching new business and first class seats. This really is an airline for those who are in the know. It is a fact it makes you look cool for flying with it, rather than the brand itself being cool. While the product is slick and contemporary, it’s still about providing a sense of luxury. Always a step ahead, with its cabin product and timeless uniforms created by Pierre Balmain, the emphasis is on chic, not bling. While soon-to-be-introduced Premium Economy seats are the main scene-stealer this year, we still love its newly renovated business and first class seats for its 777 fleet. An elegant way to fly.
3. [joint] Virgin Atlantic [-2]
Sadly, Virgin Atlantic has dropped a couple of spots from the number one position it held last year. While Virgin is still cool, other airlines have gone above and beyond and put this classically cool brand in the shade. That said, it still has an edge that makes you feel proud to fly with it. The airline still eludes cool, from its clubhouses to new technology, there are elements here that are leading the way in aviation; however, the hard product just doesn’t offer the space or the comfort that other airlines do now. While the airline may be exploiting its long-lasting reputation right now, we were hoping the 787 would bring us innovation beyond what’s currently available in the skies; sadly, that didn’t happen. We still hope there is chance the airline will gain asecond wind, especially with its new big brother Delta behind it. Fingers crossed, this year will bring radically new thinking!
2. Etihad [new]
No surprise really that this Middle Eastern carrier was due to appear on our list. After all, its A380s and 787s are some of the hottest tickets in the sky right now. Residents, Apartments, Studios are names usually associated with hotels; however, in 2015, this airline, with the aid of some very clever designers, has managed to bring direct to its passengers the very best commercial airline product that has ever flown. Mix in a brand new livery, new uniforms and a whole wave of improvements across the passenger experience, and what was already an impressive carrier has become the cream of the crop. The only thing keeping it a little more grounded than we would like is a lounge product that doesn’t match its airborne product. Nearly there, Etihad.
1. Air New Zealand [+1]
Leaping ahead to first place this year is the true Lord of The Airlines. Not only does this airline continue to offer truly breathtaking safety videos (Including Sports Illustrated and Lord Of The Rings versions last year). As launch customer of the 787-9 and with a host of cabin changing products such as the SkyCouch or the SpaceSeat on its 777, this airline knows what it takes to be cool. Last year’s retirement of its older 747 fleet has resulted in a modern and aligned product around the world. While still a smaller international airline, it packs a punch and pretty much every international traveler knows of the product. We are proud Air New Zealand has continued to punch above its weight and to climb up our ladder. Air New Zealand is a cool and contemporary brand, and we agree, just as their brand motto states, that, with Air New Zealand… ‘future takes flight’