While many airlines in the world vie to be the biggest, there are a few smaller airlines that are certainly fighting to be the best. We take a look at 10 airlines under 10 million passengers per annum that are doing something special in 2018 that – we think – might just be worth getting on board with.
1. Hong Kong Airlines
While the airline might have established itself in its local market, Hong Kong Airlines might not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking of flying long-haul into Asia. However, the airline has expanded pretty quickly over the past 12 months, launching routes to the likes of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Moscow, and soon to be announced, London. With fully-flat beds in business class, and route-specific gourmet menus from the likes of Chris Cosentino, this airline caters for a younger crowd than its legacy rival Cathay Pacific, and with cheaper fares too, this airline is certainly worth booking a flight with. If you can splash the cash, and opt for Business Class, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the Club Autus lounge in Hongkers too.
2. Air Italy
Unless you’ve been devoid of an internet connection lately, you’ll probably heard of Qatar Airways new sister airline Air Italy. The airline, taking over from Meridiana is a new brand, and while it might have a questionable livery, the airline has decided to take all the best bits from the Qatar Airways model and bring them to life with a truly Italian twist. Think Qatar Airways flatbed seats, new routes to the likes of Miami, New York and Delhi and fresh pasta dishes a plenty. While Alitalia continues to remodel itself, this smaller, more dynamic airline could quickly rise up the ranks, with a powerhouse like Qatar Airways behind it.
3. Aigle Azur
Well known in the French market, this airline, which predominantly flew to destinations in Northern Africa with a short-haul fleet, however, enter Brazilian-American David Neeleman of Azul and JetBlue fame in late 2017, and next thing we know, the airline is expanding with three ex-Air Berlin A330 aircraft, and a new long-haul route network including Beijing and home town Sao Paulo (no surprises there!) The new A330s feature Air Berlin’s fully flat bed cabins, as well as ridiculously low fares. This is certainly an affordable way to fly long haul.
4. Oman Air
The smaller sibling to the Middle Eastern giants, this carrier certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. This boutique carrier offers an incredible product in all classes and the addition of the new 787-9, joining the fleet imminently, also offers a brand new First Class product. Unlike the other major players in the Gulf, Oman Air gives passengers more attention, a better product, and a brand new terminal in Muscat which elevates the passenger experience for those connecting through the region.
Sticking in the Middle East, FlyDubai, with its recent strategic alliance with Emirates, has seen itself venture from a start-up Low Cost Carrier to a regional carrier with a very smart product. To ensure a better tie-up with the passenger experience with Emirates, the smaller carrier, utilising 737 Max aircraft, now offers passengers in business class fully-flat beds just like those found in JetBlue’s Mint cabin. Now if only they could sort out their somewhat questionable uniforms…
6. Fiji Airways
Now the chances are you probably think you would be unlikely to fly with Fiji Airways unless you were headed there on your honeymoon, however the carrier also offers pretty nifty one-stop connections across the pacific too. The inflight product certainly is boutique, and the business class cabin in neutral tones of white, cream and tan is super smart and the airline has won best livery with us in the past too, but the best news is the fact the airline has relaunched its lounge in Nadi, meaning any stop over is now in total comfort and the airline is a joy to fly from start to finish. With a recent partnership with BA, the airline also can form part of a round-the-world itinerary, which is certainly worth doing once in your lifetime.
7. Brussels Airlines
This smaller carrier of the Lufthansa family certainly is carving a niche for itself. Brussels Airlines has a long established route network in to Africa meaning its very important to the larger group. Also, riffing off it’s truly unique ‘Belgitude’ means aircraft are covered in Smurfs, Tintin characters and three other unique liveries. However, it’s not all just fun, the airline has announced it’s looking at its cabins and have got JPA on the case to redesign the long-haul passenger experience at the end of this year. But for those who can’t wait that long, the airline has also just expanded its lounge in Brussels Airport, meaning there is more space to stretch and unwind before the flight.
8. Virgin Atlantic
Most will be surprised to see this name on the list, not because of its innovation or quirky too cool for school brand, but because most people think it’s much bigger than it actually is. However, size isn’t everything and what Virgin Atlantic lacks in passenger numbers it makes up in passenger experience. While the airline has been strong for a long time and in need of a new injection of design, all eyes are turning to their new A350s which will join the fleet next year. The aircraft will feature new cabin products which are hotly anticipated to be heavily customised and market leaders. In the meantime, you could always top up your tan in the World’s only beachside departure lounge.
9. El Al
Once an airline to avoid due to its ageing fleet and archaic inflight product, El Al has drastically changed its image with the launch of its new 787 fleet. Featuring absolutely stunning cabins, the new fleet make sure that passengers in all classes get a world-class passenger experience.
10. La Compagnie
The one remaining bastion of the all-business-class era, La Compagnie based in Paris’ Orly airport has managed to not only weather the storm of its competition, but also announce an order of new A321neos which will mean that the current lie-flat seats will be replaced with fully flat seats. Not only do they offer a boutique product, their staff uniforms are truly Parisian and super cool. For those needing to make a quick hop across The Pond, this carrier should certainly be on your radar, offering cheaper tickets than the legacy carriers on the same routes.