We are pleased to announce our Top 10 economy classes for 2015. The last 18 months have changed the landscape for economy class travel, with passengers around the world benefiting from new aircraft, new products and increased inflight entertainment options. While there are some new entrants into our list this year, the competition was tougher than ever, due to an increasingly consistent passenger experience through all carriers. It is fair to say that our list is dominated by Middle Eastern and Asian airlines, which would mirror the expansion and competition between carriers found in these regions, with airlines fighting to entice passengers onto their aircraft.

10. Virgin America [-8]



We’ve applauded Virgin America since we started, for creating some truly industry-changing products. From ordering food, drink or even clothing from your seat, to live TV and films on demand. The airline oozes fun and is geared toward tech-savvy millennials. The tech onboard means that you can even buy strangers a drink somewhere else on the plane without even having to strike up an awkward conversation! On the aircraft, the seats are adorned with black leather and the white seatbacks are super space age. In the cabin, mood lighting and bright red screens are more ‘Star Trek’ than passenger plane when you enter. With the option to purchase lounge access or ‘Main Cabin Select’, and even Wi-Fi, offering a wealth of bolt-ons to make your flight even more enjoyable.

7. [joint] China Airlines [new]



China Airlines’ NextGen program has helped the carrier yet again slip its way into our Top 10 lists. The introduction of the airline’s Boeing 777-300ER includes a brand-new economy product that has reinvented the carrier’s passenger experience. Not only do the seats feature a brand new touchscreen HD inflight entertainment offering; ten rows of the economy cabin offer the new Family Couch, which was licensed from Air New Zealand, turning a row of seats into a fully flat bed. Wi-Fi onboard, beautifully designed cabins, and a decent 32” seat pitch means passengers can enjoy an industry-leading product.

7. [joint] Virgin Atlantic [-]



Virgin Atlantic has really stepped up a gear in improving its fleet, new 787s and A330s mean that passengers are enjoying updated entertainment systems, access to Wi-Fi on board as well as all the little extras that VS has become synonymous with. It’s the small touches that we like, like the ice-cream mid route and the welcome cocktails that make this airline stand out. Developments have happened over the last year. The cabin service, while not as refined as that of the Asian carriers, is heartfelt, and their new slogan, “Flying in the face of ordinary” certainly rings true. What’s most important is that passengers can expect 31” of seat pitch, amenity kits and a decent baggage allowance.

7. [joint] Emirates Airlines [new]


80Emirates, the World’s largest A380 operator is a new entry on our list. With its award winning “ICE” inflight entertainment, with over 2000 channels of entertainment, new A380 aircraft and increased frequencies and routes, Emirates is becoming a popular one-stop carrier for economy class travellers looking for affordable tickets. With a handsome 32-34” seat pitch on most of the fleet, passenger comfort and space is increasing, while still keeping all the perks that Emirates has become synonymous with, including toys for children, regionally inspired cuisine and in-seat power for your personal devices.

6. JAL [new]


82Japan Airlines is a new entry into our Top 10 list, thanks in part to its most incredibly spacious 787 Dreamliners now entering service. With one of the lowest seat densities on any dual aisle aircraft, this economy cabin exudes a unique sense of space. A leading 34” of seat pitch is available, and, by refraining from opting for the nine across seating of their competitors on their aircraft, JAL have stuck with a very comfortable eight across seating pattern. With a unique and unassuming Japanese service onboard, the carrier has embraced its culture and succeeded in offering its passengers a state of the art cabin mixed with elegant amenities and dining offerings. Hats off to Japan Airlines for really stepping up to the mark.

5. Oman Air [-2]


85Yes, Oman Air is the least known of all the Middle Eastern carriers, but from an economy class perspective is one of the best. Oman Air has managed to secure a list of awards longer than its arm and yet, still most people will pick big brothers Emirates or Qatar over this genuinely excellent airline. With a huge amount of legroom (34”), akin to that found in American carriers ‘Economy Plus’ in every seat, this airline provides more space per passenger than almost every other carrier at no extra cost. The airline itself has continued to expand over the past 12 months, and recently reinvented its business class to equal its rivals. While the route map may not be as encompassing as that of other Middle Eastern carriers, it still can carry passengers from most major cities in the West to most major cities in the East. If you haven’t travelled with it yet, this is a must.

4. Air New Zealand [-3]


87No surprise here that Air New Zealand should appear at the top end of our list, only losing ground to some worthy competitors. These aviation innovators and creators of the SkyCouch have successfully worked out exactly what economy passengers want from their flight. It has some of the friendliest crews in the skies and an excellent inflight entertainment offering, with a wealth of international and local films and TV programs. On the 777, it launched their SkyCouches, which are the closest thing to business class at a fraction of the cost. Allowing you and another person to share a row of economy seats, with a fold out mattress that comes from under the seats to form a 3-foot wide bed. The food is great, partnered by amazing NZ wines, and is fairly consistent in quality. On the new 777-300 Aircraft, you can order food and drink from your seat IFE screen without having to reach to the dizzy heights of the ceiling to call for cabin crew.

3. Cathay Pacific [new]


89Cathay Pacific takes third place this year for its economy product. Already labeled “Airline of the Year” by SkyTrax, the airline has ramped up its product with new branding, new inflight products and a wealth of design touches that have elevated the carrier far beyond its competition, unlike which it has kept a 3x3x3 seating in its 777-300ERs, offering a welcome and roomy 18.5” wide seat with 32” seat pitch. The younger travellers are looked after by the cabin crew, and, apart from fantastic dining, a wealthy inflight entertainment system will delight you. We love the little touches, like the storage pockets and design elements to keep your personal effects to hand. Cathay has won us over with its attention to detail.

2. Singapore Airlines [+2]


90Singapore Airlines is a carrier that treats economy passengers like business class ones; in fact, many of its economy class travellers are travelling in business. From its vast entertainment library, to its continuing investment into its hard product, this airline hasn’t rested on its laurels to remain the best, and, while just being pipped to the post by a game changing product, SIA is a carrier we would often prefer to travel with compared to others. While the rest of the aircraft has had recent investment, including a brand new premium economy product, the economy class cabin is yet to be revisited. However, with excellent dining, the inclusion of Wi-Fi fleet-wide, 19” wide seats and 32” seat pitch, the carrier still offers a world class product that other carriers will be hard pressed to beat.

1. Etihad [+4]


93Etihad featured on our last list, and for good reason; its already established economy class is one of the best in the skies. This year however, Etihad has brought the very best cabin product to the skies with the introduction of its 787 Dreamliners and A380s. A very simple design fix has solved an issue for economy class comfort that had been around since the introduction of commercial flight. All Economy Smart Seats now have a “fixed wing” headrest to sleep against, meaning that finding that perfect sleeping position is now super easy. If that wasn’t enough, the carrier has introduced new extra-large pillows that can be easily split and turned into neck pillows. Passengers can also stay entertained on their flight with more than 750 hours of on-demand entertainment on an enlarged 11” touch screen TV.

Even economy passengers benefit from noise-reduction headsets, and for the social media lovers, passengers can enjoy mobile and internet access throughout their flight. Etihad’s passengers will enjoy a four course meal, including a choice of three main courses, and, afterwards, a cafe service that includes cappuccinos and hot chocolate. While passenger comfort, amenities and entertainment offerings are the very best in the skies, seat pitch isn’t the biggest in the sky, coming in at a respectable 32”. We would have liked to have seen a slightly larger pitch between the seats to truly make it a leading cabin in all aspects.

Posted by:Jonny Clark

5 replies on “TheDesignAir’s Top 10 Economy Classes 2015

  1. You cannot compensate space with larger entertainment screens or marginally better service and food. Any airline that offers 9-abreast in the Dreamliner or 10-abreast in the Triple 7, should NOT be in this list. This means of the 10 airlines mentioned above only Virgin America, Oman Air, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines belong on this list. For me the latter two are amongst the best largest airlines in the world.

  2. A little disappointed Etihad is ranked number one . . . The seat width in coral zone is horrendous to say the least, not to mention their very average crew to pax ratio.

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