Smooth skies: the world’s best airlines

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There’s that all-too-familiar sinking feeling that accompanies hunkering down for a fourteen-hour flight with a cramped seat, no personal screen and a tetchy flight attendant in complete control of your comfort. Though some flights, planes and crews are inevitably better than others - and even two flights with the same airline can vary wildly in terms of enjoyment - there are certain airlines whose business cabins, and even economy seats, are overall nonpareil. Fly one of the following and you’ll find there’s still luxury (and leg-room) to be had in today’s crowded skies.

Singapore Airlines

Whilst economy, business and first all have their perks on this most efficient and professional of carriers, the real draw with Singapore are the suites on board their ten A380 aeroplanes. These include leather armchair-style seats, a separate bed, a full-length wardrobe and dining table. And it doesn’t stop there: tableware and bedding are Givenchy-designed, toiletries are Ferragamo, and your vintage Bordeaux is served in crystal.  What better way since the heyday of the airship - when no self-respecting flight crossed the Atlantic without a concert pianist - is there to fly?

Asiana Airlines

Smiling crews and lots of space between seats characterise Asiana flights, most of which fly via Seoul’s Incheon airport. Business travellers can expect full flat-bed seats, Bulgari travel kits, traditional Korean cuisine and Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee, while first class passengers can request pyjamas and everyone can avail, for a fee, of airborne SMS and email services. Keep hold of your 'magic boarding pass', regardless of your travel class, for discounts on entertainment, transport, restaurants and attractions in Seoul, Guangzho, Osaka, and Singapore.

Related article: How to get an upgrade

Qatar Airways

It’s hard to find an under-par Qatar Airways business flight. Business cabins are calm and quiet, almond milk, dates and other Qatari delicacies are provided as you find your seat, and dining is fine, with starched napkins, a good wine list, and a generous post-dinner cheese plate. Bear in mind, though, that alcohol is restricted on some flights during the holy month of Ramadan, so you might not get that nice mellow red with your meal. Qatar’s hub, at Doha, offers a spacious separate Premium Terminal for business and first class passengers, with complimentary meals, drinks, video games, a full-service spa, and small, comfy bedrooms for catching forty winks en route.

Malaysia Airlines

Seats are comfortable and service generally smooth on flights with Malaysia, which pass through its Kuala Lumpur hub. If you’re flying first or business class, dine on fresh salad leaves and incredible blue cheese from the Australian Tarago River Cheese Company all served on Wedgwood china, and wash it down after dinner with a hot cup of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe coffee.

Cathay Pacific

Almost everyone seems to love Cathay Pacific for its smooth service and fantastic Hong Kong hub, but with an 81-inch-long first class bed, flat beds in business class, and shell seats in economy (meaning that even if the person in front of you reclines, their chair-back doesn’t), Cathay's a particularly comfortable option for those who value their personal space. First class passengers can enjoy freshly-fried eggs with their Krug Grand Cuvée champagne; galleys are equipped with snacks for everyone – with options ranging from chocolate bars to instant noodles – for when the munchies strike.

Kingfisher Airlines

Kingfisher, the world’s only Skytrax Five Star-ranked domestic airline (now also with flights to and from London, Dubai, Hong, Bangkok, Kathmandu and Singapore) makes life easy for those who don’t have time to take India’s scenic, but time-consuming trains. Fly Mumbai to Goa – a flight of less than an hour – and even in economy class you’ll be served a full hot meal and watch live satellite TV. For those requiring another notch up when it comes to service, Kingfisher Elite offers private jets (on which you can even take a mid-air shower), for charter for business...or, indeed, pleasure. And, if you’re hoping to upgrade without the price tag, check Optiontown’s Upgrade Travel Option, which allows you to upgrade on Kingfisher flights, if seats are available, for a nominal price.

This article was published in July 2010. This article was refreshed in September 2012.