Lonely Planet Writer

What's the world's best airline?

There was a time when flying was about freedom and glamour. Those days are long gone (unless you're travelling business class).

What's a poor soul to do? Where can harried air travellers turn for comfort?

Happily, several operators still attempt to make the skies as welcoming as possible. The 2010 Zagat Airline Survey canvassed 90 international airlines to determine which ones stacked up in terms of overall service, comfort, food and extras.

Decades ago, grand carriers such as Pan Am and the old SwissAir would have topped this list easily. But today's list is much more diverse, both in terms of geography and airline style.

Airlines achieving top scores hailed from Asia and the Pacific. The gold, silver and bronze winners were Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and Emirates, respectively.

Within the USA, Virgin America edged out JetBlue on top overall score. In general, the smaller players did well in America, with Hawaiian and Alaskan Airlines scoring higher than their bigger competitors in Southwest and Continental.

Zagat used a 30-point scale that incorporated several subfactors into an airline's overall rating - including the quality of its website and luggage policies. It also took into account opinions that were too strong to put into its print publications (our favourite being 'the only thing missing is a blindfold and a cigarette').

Did the Zagat system capture the most important aspects of airline quality? Do you agree with the rankings? What do you think makes for a good airline, and what's the best one out there?