2015 has been an impressive year with many carriers taking advantage of the lowered oil prices to invest heavily into their passenger experience both on the ground and in the air. We take a look at the best carriers around the world that have caught our attention this year. We offer a retrospective of the carriers that were cream of the crop in our Top 10’s while TheDesignAir’s founder, Jonny Clark, highlights the most improved carriers around the world, as ranked by region.
Most Improved Carrier Americas 2015 [new]
Avianca has worked hard to not only improve their passenger experience with the introduction of new aircraft, such as the Dreamliner, but also a new hard product, including the new all-aisle access business class seats found on their A330s and 787s. The service improvements including enhanced dining found on the 787 and completed lounge renovations mean that connecting through Avianca’s hubs makes for an enjoyable journey.
We were impressed by the brand working hard, not only to enhance the happiness of their passengers but also successfully turning the business into a profitable and stable airline. The next few years will see the introduction of an impressive 133 A320neo family to the fleet, 10 A350-900 and another 10 787s creating a truly state-of-the-art airline.
Most Improved Carrier Europe 2015 [new]
SAS has now turned a corner with their latest aircraft featuring the latest Thomson Vantage XL seats in business class, designed by Factorydesign. Shedding off the old tired image the carrier had for a while, the new SAS has certainly matched Finnair proving the Nordic countries aren’t to be overlooked when picking a carrier to and from Europe.
It’s not just the business class that’s had a facelift. The seating in SAS Go and SAS Plus are designed with good storage to create extra space. All seats in SAS Business have direct access to aisles and fold flat as sleeper seats. It’s the little extras that have really lifted the carrier up the ranks, from walk up snack bars to Hästens bedding in business class. The aircraft also has a new on-demand entertainment system with HD screens and WiFi in all classes.
Most Improved Carrier Asia 2015 [new]
Throughout 2015 China Airlines has elevated its standing in Asia with the introduction of its Premium Business Class cabin, 777-300ER aircraft and new lounge in Taipei meaning international travellers in all classes, including its new premium economy cabin can enjoy enhanced comfort, space and amenities.
We have become big fans of China Airlines and their ‘Next Generation’ product, especially their Premium Business Class product that has one of the most unique and luxurious cabin interiors in the skies, featuring all-aisle access, excellent dining options and a walk-up bar with a variety of Nespresso flavours and Taiwanese snacks, and on the ground, a beautifully designed and atmospheric well-stocked lounge that is like a home away from home.
Most improved carrier Australia & The Pacific 2015 [new]
In Australia two major carriers have been fighting for the most affluent of Australia’s passengers, which has meant that passengers are benefitting like never before. This year has brought a wave of improvements to Virgin Australia, from brand new business class cabins on their A330s to a new Brisbane airport terminal and lounge in Darwin. It’s not just at the front of the cabin, Virgin Australia’s passengers in premium economy will be enjoying new seats too.
The airline has worked hard to offer a competitive and luxurious product, designed to lure passengers away from rival Qantas. The 777 fleet should be retrofitted with the new products in early 2016, creating a seamless product throughout the passenger’s journey and enhancing the carrier’s standing in the Pacific.
Most improved carrier Middle East & Africa 2015 [new]
Etihad’s new fleet of 787s and A380s have rolled out across many of the carrier’s routes, offering increased customer comfort in all their three cabins, especially for those on the A380, which now flies to London, Sydney and New York from Abu Dhabi. Etihad this year also opened their new lounge in New York and new First Class lounge in Abu Dhabi giving their premium passengers increased comfort in all corners of the globe.
Etihad were already well positioned in the Middle East with their entire long-haul fleet offering fully flat beds with all-aisle access, something that no other Middle Eastern carrier can boast, however the attention to detail and investment into a truly unique seat product in every class has elevated the carrier to a level that their competitors are struggling to match. So whether in he airline’s Residence above-first class cabin or in one of their economy smart seats, you will be pampered beyond your expectations.
‘TheDesignAir Passenger Choice’ Airline Brand 2015
Taking top spot, Cathay Pacific has reaffirmed that it is the airline most loved by passengers around the world. Naturally, the carrier has excellent First and Business Class products and beautiful new lounges, including its brand new First Class lounge in Hong Kong. However, it is the carrier’s global use of social media, new advertising campaigns and marketing strategies that have allowed it to truly connect with passengers.
Best Premium Economy 2015
Qantas has had its Premium Economy since 2008, but this is no tired cabin. The Marc Newson-inspired seats provide 40” of pitch, movable 10.5” touch-screens (found in the armrests), and a comfortable 19.5” seat width. Premium Economy is perfectly suited for Qantas’ long-haul nature. With footrests at every seat, noise cancelling headsets, and enhanced amenity kits, the cabin features everything a passenger could want—and Qantas never stops improving; for instance, passengers can now pre-order menus inspired by Perth’s famed Rockpool Bar and Grill. We’ve fallen in love all over again with the spacious and comfortable seats, excellent design touches, and new comfort elements that quite rightly position Qantas on the summit of our Top 10.
Best Low Cost Carrier Brand 2015
We are delighted that Virgin America takes first place in this category. This carrier has really tried to change not only the low cost category, but also the face of domestic US travel when it first came to market. Part of the larger Virgin brand, founded by Sir Richard Branson, the carrier has embraced the super-cool elements that has made the American sub-brand such a success, especially away from Europe where the Virgin brand is better known. From sumptuous white leather seating in First Class through to clubhouses and mood lighting, the carrier has shaken off the history of the original low-cost product, offering a high quality product that consumers actually want. The airline is also at the forefront of in-seat technology, offering google maps, seat-to-seat chat, and was one of the first carriers to embrace in seat food and drink ordering. Yet another San Francisco startup, Virgin America has joined the ranks of Facebook, Apple & Gap of iconic American brands based on the West Coast.
Best Airline Uniform 2015
Parisian based, Australian born fashion designer Martin Grant won Aussie flag carrier Qantas top spot in our Top 10 Uniforms for 2015. Qantas has successfully shown that airlines don’t have to be drab and boring. Celebrating the Aussie spirit, we love how bright and vibrant these uniforms are. With a wide array of accessories such as black Macintoshes with red accents and Trilby hats or black shoes with red soles, the uniform is feels more like a coordinated wardrobe than a uniform.
The showstopper here is definitely the women’s tops. With a strong and daring diagonal colour blocked design, these uniforms nod to the Qantas red triangle logo, but with the addition of fuchsia, become contemporary dresses that we would actively go out and purchase on the high-street. Men have tailored suits, with bold graphic ties that match the look and feel of the women’s wardrobe. Grant’s capsule collection features over 35 designs meaning that the uniforms will continue to surprise and look fresh for years to come.
Best Airline Livery 2015
Fiji Airways & Etihad Airways
Although sadly, we recently saw the passing of Makereta Matemosi, the designer behind the airlines iconic image, Fiji Airways‘ livery climbs the ladder again this year, with its highest ever score. In a similar story to that of O’hana by Hawaiian, this wonderful ‘heritage-bound’ national design that uses pacific tribal patterns and emblems shows a proud cultural image that will stand out at its international destination airports of Sydney, Auckland, Hong Kong and Los Angeles. Conceived by FutureBrand, the design is the end result of great thought and research – and the story of how the livery was pieced together shows the very simple yet elegant design solution. The livery boasts a strong unique logotype, a bold tailfin and intricately decorated nacelles, which draw the eye all over the well-balanced airframe. We are excited to see new aircraft joining the fleet. Airlines like Fiji Airways show that we still are producing wonderful, inspiring liveries even today.
Sitting with Fiji Airways right at the top, Etihad has won over the judges this year with a bold geometric design that matches the new airline brand image. Created by leading brand consultants Landor Associates in partnership with Etihad Airways, the new livery is inspired by traditional Emirati design patterns, the landscapes of the desert and the geometric shapes found in the modern architecture of Abu Dhabi. It is both striking and very contemporary, mirroring the current aesthetic for polygonal design. This is more than just a livery; it matches a combined brand image across all passenger experience touch-points. While the new livery can now mainly be found on Etihad’s A380s and 787s, it will also be rolled out across the entire fleet.
Best Economy Class 2015
Etihad 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.
Best Business Class 2015
It is no surprise that Etihad, of the United Arab Emirates, has taken our top spot again this year, reinforcing its position as carrier ‘Number One’. The latest Business Class cabin found on the 787 and A380 exceeds the already faultless Business Class on the rest of its long haul fleet, with each glorious seat (designed by the gurus at Acumen DA, as part of the EDC) offering aisle access, fully-flat beds and dine-when-you-want menus.
The new seat hard product, however, are what have blown the judges away, with an attention to detail and luxurious finish, including custom-made lamps, Poltrona Frau leather seats, and massage functions that rival the best therapists on terra firma. With an effortless in-flight entertainment system, large screen, and refined table setting, Business Class on Etihad surpasses many First Classes around the world. It’s the quality, detail and finish that really set this carrier apart.
Best First Class 2015
In case you have been living under a rock for the last couple of years, Etihad has revealed and launched its award-winning A380 and 787 interiors, which have revolutionized modern-day air travel. The aircraft, from top to tail, have been treated to a designer makeover, rebuilding them from the ground up with revolutionary new design concepts. The real winners are the A380 “Apartments.” Situated on the top deck – with an aviation-first: single aisle on a widebody – the suites have been turned 90 degrees to offer full-length beds, and space that is unparalleled in the skies. The new designs represent the height of luxury, including: chilled mini-bars; fold-down, full-size beds; large, comfortable recliner chairs; swivel TVs; and vanity mirrors to make sure you arrive looking like a million dollars.
As well as The Residence (a private 3-room suite for two people), the A380 also boasts a warm and inviting lounge, separate shower areas, and all the service and quality in product we have come to expect of this relatively young carrier.
Best Airline Lounge 2015
Qantas is on a roll; having opened a handful of lounges in 2014 alone, the airline seems to have managed to successfully develop a winning formula. Although the lounges have been created by a collection of different designers, the original flagship lounge, designed by its Creative Director Marc Newson and architect firm Sébastien Segers Architecte DPLG has really shown itself to be the ultimate template to follow. For those seeking the ultimate hedonistic experience there is a spa that can offer a 50 minute long full body massage surrounded by a living wall of lush green foliage. After the massage, why not visit the restaurant, with a menu created by Neil Perry (of Rockpool restaurant fame), serving fine Australian cuisine on tables designed to look like helipads and a wine list that any Michelin-starred restaurant would be proud of. There is also a library, a business centre (naturally), and a sweeping panorama of the airport.
What really contributes to set this lounge apart is the feeling that it was designed from the ground up, a space that wasn’t ever meant to be anything even resembling what it now is. The wooden veneers, clean white seating, splashes of red and living walls offer a calming, contemporary environment that doesn’t challenge the eye, but naturally provides a sense of relaxation and luxury. That is a difficult blend to master, but this lounge just seems to do so effortlessly.
Best Airline Brand 2015
Air New Zealand
Air New Zealand 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), it was also the launch customer of the 787-9. 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 that flies almost around the world. Passenger numbers make this a smaller international airline, but it packs a punch and pretty much every international traveler knows of the product. Air New Zealand is a cool and contemporary brand, and just as their brand motto states, with Air New Zealand… ‘future takes flight’