AIR TRAVEL TIPS
11 Surprisingly Lovable Airlines
Airplane passengers are pretty much the definition of a captive audience. Fortunately, these 11 airlines never take their ticket-holders for granted. Whether they aim to make you laugh, help you sleep, or even save the planet, all promise an above-average air travel experience—in some form or another.
Best (Splurge) Airline for a Mid-Flight Scrub: Emirates
The advent of the superjumbo jet changed the game for aircraft-interior designers, and no one pushed the new boundaries—both in literal and figurative terms—quite like Emirates airlines. Not content to add cushier beds and more elaborate entertainment systems, the Dubai-based carrier was the first in the world to use that additional room on its A380s to install full-height shower stalls for its first-class passengers to freshen up mid-flight. On its Dubai-London route, for instance, Emirates has two snazzy walnut-and-marble "shower spas" to serve its 14 first-class passengers (one person at a time, please). Flight attendants explain the ins and outs in detail before sending folks inside for a scrub—including where to find the oxygen mask, should a change in cabin pressure occur. You'll be happy for the tutorial: When the stall's door is closed, the water turns on automatically—and so does a five-minute timer, complete with a yellow warning light to signal when it's time to rinse off any suds. Even if your financial forecast doesn't call for a "chance of showers," flying coach on Emirates has its own perks: Each seat reclines up to 120 degrees, comes with a power outlet, and has a 10-inch seatback TV screen with 1,200 channels of entertainment.
Best Airline for Safety Demonstration Videos [Currently in Use]: Virgin America
A nun, a matador, and a bull walk onto on airplane—no, this is not the setup for a joke; it's a list of the characters starring in Virgin America's lighthearted, animated safety-demonstration video. Don't get us wrong—we know that air-travel safety is no laughing matter—but there's a lot to be said for a video that's engaging enough to actually get people to pay attention. (Other airlines have experimented with comic versions of safety videos over the years, but only Virgin America has made it a standard feature.) The video's narrator deadpans all the essential information, inserting an offhand joke here and there ("For the point-zero-zero-zero-one percent of you who have never operated a seat belt before..."), while the animated illustrations showing how, for example, to find and open the compartments where the life vests are stored (in two different spots, depending on your seat) actually do a better job than most. It's the kind of stuff that could save precious seconds in the event of an emergency landing like 2009's Hudson River "miracle"—particularly if everyone on the flight has actually watched the demo. With their eyes open.
Most Punctual Airline: All Nippon Airways
Forget the stereotype about German punctuality—Japanese carrier All Nippon Airways (ANA) has set the standard for getting planes to their destinations on schedule. According to a report from FlightStats, the airline landed nine out of 10 flights on time in 2011—the best performance of any international carrier last year—just edging out Japan Airlines International (JAL), the winner for the two previous years. (The industry average was a full 10 percent below ANA's performance, with only about eight out of ten flights hitting their scheduled marks.) ANA operates about 1,000 flights a day, primarily out of its hubs in Tokyo and Osaka, and while the bulk of its routes run within Japan, the airline also flies non-stop daily to Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C., and Honolulu. Seattle and San Jose will be added later this year as the 7th and 8th gateways in the U.S.
Airlines with the Best In-Flight Economy-Class Meals: Thai Airways and Virgin America
The ultimate proof that an airline's in-flight food soars above the competition? When people choose to eat it outside the confines of the airplane. That's what has happened with Bangkok-based Thai Airways, whose bakery items (curry puffs, fruit tarts, coffee rolls), ready-made sauces, and salad dressings do brisk sales on the ground in its Puff & Pie takeout shops in Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai. Airline passengers have picked it as a winner, too. Last year, the 18 million people who voted in Skytrax's "World Airline Awards" in the economy-class food faceoff overwhelmingly opted for Thai Airways' cuisine, with its focus on local flavors in dishes like massaman curry, stir-fried chicken, and green curry, all served with white rice. (The airline does offer alternatives for fliers with dietary restrictions or less-adventurous palates.)
Stateside, our in-flight food is often lacking—not just in style (or appeal), but also in substance. High-fat, low-nutrient snacks have become the order of the day. That's why Dr. Charles Stuart Platkin, a nutrition expert known as the "Diet Detective," set out last year to determine which major North American airlines serve food that's actually worth its weight in calories. His findings showed that Virgin America offers (for purchase) the most nutritionally balanced meals and snacks—like the 370-calorie egg-and-vegetable salad wrap that's packed with hunger-sating protein—of all the U.S.-based airlines he studied. Given that today's fliers are grateful for any food being available at all on planes, we're pleased to see two airlines willing to better their catering games.