If getting there is half the journey, shouldn’t it be pleasant (at least)? Airlines have gone through a lot of changes over the last year. So for our first annual Fodor’s Awards, we’re acknowledging those airlines that have changed for the better: the ones that have given us more room, better food, great drinks—and sometimes entire apartments and rare whiskey. These are the brands that have changed the game in 2019, plus a few that just make people feel great when they fly them.

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The Best U.S. Airline

WINNER

Delta Air Lines

We love Delta because their planes are some of the newest in the skies, and they fly everywhere. Not only does Delta itself fly passengers to over 325 destinations around the world, but it also partners with SkyTeam and their 1,150 worldwide destinations (and 19 partner airlines) so there’s basically nowhere in the world that they don’t go (plus, you can take two carry-ons to every one of those destinations, even if you're flying Basic Economy).

And, wherever you're going, you'll likely get there on time. Delta is the most punctual of all of America's major airlines, and that’s according to official stats from the Department of Transportation.
Ashlee Duncan/Southwest Airlines

RUNNER-UP

Southwest Airlines

There’s a lot to “luv” about America’s favorite low-cost carrier. Southwest Airlines consistently ranks among frequent flyer’s favorites because of a host of reasons: the crew is famously friendly, you can change or cancel your tickets without paying a fee, and you can even check two bags for free. Fly them frequently enough, and you can even earn a “buy one, get one free (plus taxes and fees)” Companion Pass ticket that flies two for the price of one. And this year, Southwest is flying farther than ever. They’ve just expanded their network to fly to some of the world’s favorite vacation destinations in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Hawaii.

The Best International Airline

WINNER

Emirates

Honestly, Emirates won Best International Airline because no matter where you go in the world, you’ll find international travelers raving about the Dubai-based airline, and for good reason. Whether you’re in coach, lie-flat business class beds, or a private suite in its first-class cabin, Emirates offers one of the comfiest flights in the sky.

And, because every Emirates cabin crew member undergoes seven-and-a-half weeks of training in service and safety, the service on this airline is unparalleled. Even if you never speak to a crew member at all, you’ll still enjoy yourself in-flight. That’s because Emirates has won Skytrax’s World’s Best Inflight Entertainment award for 14 years running by having one of the biggest programming selections in the sky. Currently, you’ll find more than 850 films of world cinema and more than 3,500 television channels, including live sports and news on more than 70 percent of Emirates aircraft. And that’s hard to beat.
Courtesy of Cathay Pacific Airways

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Cathay Pacific

Cathay Pacific comes in second place in our Best International Airline race, but just by a hair. While Cathay Pacific doesn’t have private first-class seats, it does have great economy seats, lie-flat business-class seats, and premium sparkling wine in first class. Plus, Cathay Pacific has great range. It flies to 77 destinations and is a great option for passengers flying from U.S. cities to connect to the rest of Asia via Hong Kong. Cathay Pacific also comes in at number two on our list because they have great sales that make this luxury flying experience a great deal.

Watch Cathay Pacific closely for deals and you might be one of those lucky flyers who nab a sweet deal like the New Year’s Eve bonanza when round-trip economy seats went for as little as $347 and business class seats for $846. It’s our favorite airline to watch and one of the best deals in the sky.

The Best Airline for Plus-Sized Passengers

WINNER

JetBlue Airways

JetBlue recently became the airline with the most room in the sky. This year, they overhauled their planes, widening their seats and increasing leg room. Each seat is 18.25” wide, which is around one inch wider than most airlines, meaning there's not only more room to sit, but you now are far less likely to have to share armrest space with your neighbor. They also have the most seat pitch—the distance between your headrest and the headrest in front of you—which will give you more room to stretch your legs.
Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

RUNNER-UP

Delta Air Lines

While Delta does have some of the widest seats in the sky, they’re not on all of their airplanes. If you want to get more room—18 inches of width and 31 to 32 inches of legroom in economy—you have to fly on Delta’s Airbus planes (you can see what type of plane you’ll be flying when you book your ticket). There you’ll find plenty of room plus complimentary seat belt extenders and a fleet-wide policy that does not require that passengers who need more room book another seat. Instead, they’ll either help reseat you next to an empty seat or allow you to pay to upgrade to first or business class.

The Best Budget Bougie Experience

WINNER

Norwegian Air

Lounge access, up to 46 inches seat pitch, a deep reclining seat that comes with a built-in footrest—you might forget that you’re flying on a low-cost carrier. You won’t, though, because as you sit back and sip your complimentary welcome drink, all you’ll be able to think about is how affordable flying in Norwegian Air’s Premium cabin is. Even Norwegian’s regular economy is simply a cut above its competitors. You still have to pay extra for food, drink, and checked baggage but you’ll still be getting a much more comfortable experience than can be had on just about any other low-cost carrier.
Courtesy of La Compagnie

RUNNER-UP

La Compagnie

Looking to fly business class to France but could do without the business-class pricing? Look no further than La Compagnie. This boutique airline offers all-business class flights between New York City and Paris every day of the week. Each of its planes is outfitted with 74 shell-style seats that are set up in a 2x2 configuration and recline at a 175-degree angle. In other words, it’s the rare flying experience where there’s truly not a bad seat to be found. And, to top it all off, their fares are 30 to 50 percent lower than what you’d pay to fly in the same class on a legacy carrier. C’est magnifique!

The Best Airline for Blowing Your Budget

WINNER

Etihad Airways

When you’re looking for the most luxurious experience you can have in the sky, you cannot go wrong with Etihad Airways. This opulent, over-the-top experience starts in Etihad’s exclusive airport lounge for ultra-VIPs. On the plane, you’ll fly in a three-room personal suite and be tended by a personal butler with their own private entrance to your in-flight lounge—that is, if you have $20,000 to spare on a flight.

If you don’t have a budget for something quite so bougie, there’s still plenty of ways Etihad Airways will give you the best experience that money can buy. For example, you can split the cost of an Etihad Apartment and make it a two-person experience complete with a sofa, full-size entertainment center, and touchscreen controls to customize the seat and lighting.
Courtesy of Emirates

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Emirates

Have you ever dreamed of taking a shower at 30,000 feet above the Earth? Emirates can check that off your bucket list—if you’re flying in first class aboard the Dubai-based carrier’s Airbus A380. Even if that’s not your favorite part of the trip, a first-class flight with Emirates is full of luxurious experiences. Menus are designed with a global inspiration and can be ordered to be served in your personal suite or with others in the First Class bar in the sky. Pro tip: skip the Champagne for Dalmore King Alexander III single malt whiskey.

The Best Airline for Pets

WINNER

American Airlines

Two words put American Airlines on the top of our list: Cuddle Class. Launched just a few years ago, it’s changed the way pet owners travel with their furry friends. Book a first-class ticket on the non-stop routes between Los Angeles or San Francisco and New York City and your pet can have its own special cabin cubicle in the front of the plane for just $125, American Airlines’ regular carry-on pet fee. Service animals fly for free.
Courtesy of Delta Air Lines

RUNNER-UP

Delta Air Lines

Delta won runner-up for the Best Airline for Pets because they’re welcoming to a wide variety of pets. Not only dogs and cats but also household birds can fly as your carry-on as long as their kennel is small enough to fit under the seat in front of you (and your pet is at least 10 weeks old). And, their fees are reasonable at $125 on domestic flights to $200 on international flights. And if your pet is lucky enough to travel with you to Brazil, their ticket is only $75.

The Tiny Airline You Should Try

WINNER

Air Dolomiti

Air Dolomiti connects Italy with Munich and Frankfurt, with planes that take you to Italy’s smaller cities like Turin, Bari, and Verona. With three separate class fares, prices are accessible—most trips are well under €100. Even though the flights are short (most are under 90 minutes), there are snacks (even for the cheap seats!) and drinks (served in actual glassware!). The best part of this airline is that it lets you access Italy’s off-the-beaten-path destinations from some of Europe’s busiest international airports.
Courtesy of Safarilink Aviation

RUNNER-UP

Safarilink

Headquartered at Nairobi’s tiny and charming Wilson Airport, Safarilink brings you to some of Kenya’s greatest destinations via dirt airstrips in remote locations. Hop on a 13-passenger Cessna for a quick 45-minute flight to the Maasai Mara, the beaches of Lamu, or Mt. Kilimanjaro. What makes this airline special is that it makes you feel like you’re venturing somewhere undiscovered, where only a lucky few will ever set foot. The tiny planes are thrilling and adventurous, but the pilots make you feel like you’re flying with friends. No boarding passes, no assigned seats, no flight attendants—it’s just you and the open skies. (Insider Tip: The small airline carries the Travel Africa magazine onboard, which is well worth a skim for African travel inspiration that you won’t find stateside.)

The Best Airline for Foodies

WINNER

Japan Airlines

On a first-class trip with Japan Airlines, you can treat yourself to several courses created by accomplished chefs from Japan. Memorable meals include an asparagus-wrapped prosciutto amuse bouche, a caviar appetizer, a filet mignon entree with scalloped potatoes and Béarnaise sauce, plus a cheese course (!). Breakfast features lobster eggs Benedict (cooked to perfection), roast duck, and apple chutney. Business-class offers excellent cuisine as well, but it’s no match for the delicacies and presentation you’ll find in first class.
Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines

RUNNER-UP

Hawaiian Airlines

Whether it’s the themed entrance music when you board, the food, or the cocktail (it’s the cocktail), Hawaiian Airlines is certainly the most festive way to island hop in Hawaii, and for flights to and from the mainland. While many domestic airlines skimp on the meals, Hawaiian still offers complimentary hot meals for both first-class and economy passengers. Don’t expect your typical airline cuisine, either: the dishes are created by Executive Chef Lee Anne Wong, who has been featured on shows like Iron Chef America. The airline is also known to take more unconventional approaches to spice up their menus. Take, for example, the Chef Series which the airline rolled out in summer of 2018, featuring up and coming culinary talent and native-to-Hawaii flavors and cuisine. Passengers can also cure in-flight jitters with signature cocktails like Mai Tais and the Moloka’i Mule.

The Best Airline for Wine & Cocktail Connoisseurs

WINNER

Japan Airlines

Japan Airlines is known for their impeccable service—and rightly so—but the quality of their inflight beverage choices may be their greatest strength. If you are lucky enough to experience JAL’s First Class, you will be treated to Cristal Champagne (yes, that Cristal), wine selections chosen by a certified “Master of Wine,” and an assortment of cocktails that always includes a rotating original creation (the current one, called the “Aviation,” is a refreshing gin-based cocktail flavored with cherry, lemon, and violet). But the true jewel on their wine list, not surprisingly, is their sake. Whether you’re a sake aficionado or a rank amateur, no JAL experience would be complete without sampling their wonderful selections.
Meg Butler

RUNNER-UP

KLM

KLM is one of our favorite airlines not only because they have friendly staff, impeccable service, and lots of extra room in business class, but they also serve one of the most exclusive beverages in the sky. Every passenger in a business-class seat on KLM is gifted a small Delft Blue house with genever—a delicious Dutch gin—inside. And a KLM flight is the only place you can find them. Fun fact: each of KLM’s Delft Blue houses is modeled after a real house in the Netherlands, and currently there are 99 house types. Frequent flyers who can afford to will collect a different one each time they fly for one of the world’s most exclusive version of Gotta Catch ‘em All.

The Best Airline for Getting Sleep

WINNER

JetBlue: Mint

Catching Z’s in-flight is one of our favorite pastimes. And for great sleep, no matter what class you’re flying, JetBlue is at the top of our list because these guys believe in giving good room. At 6-feet-8-inches long, JetBlue Mint class offers the longest lie-flat seats in a domestic cabin, and some of those cabins even come with doors for better privacy for nodding off. And because the best sleep is food-coma related, we’re just going to go ahead and also mention that JetBlue’s Mint class has delicious artisanal dining (that includes trendy dishes like mushroom risotto and citrus-braised pork) and great drink options like a killer rose and a signature cocktail called Honey Infused Lime-Aid.

And you can get that good sleep when headed to a ton of destinations in the United States, but also to destinations like Aruba, St. Lucia, Barbados, and St. Maarten that have the kind of party vibe that you need to rest up for.
Courtesy of Virgin Australia Airlines

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Virgin Australia: The Business

Virgin Australia means business when it comes to counting sheep in The Business class. If you’re flying long haul, you can stretch out a full 80 inches (6 feet 7 inches) in their lie-flat suite which comes withJulie Grbac designed pajamas and turndown service with plush pillows and a deluxe duvet. And while it doesn’t take two to get a great night’s sleep, if you’re in The Business with a companion, you can pull back the partition between the two center suites to hear each other snore. For abetting a good food-coma, The Business also features on-demand fine dining, wine pairings, and a glass of Champagne as soon as you sit down.

The Best Airline for Flying With Kids

WINNER

Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways flies to over 160 destinations within the U.S., Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and more, giving them a broad appeal for cosmopolitan families who travel the world in style. But they really stand out when it comes to travel for children, starting with their arrival at the Hamad International Airport in Doha. The airline’s Oryx Kid’s Club promises to keep children engaged and entertained, and nutritious kid-friendly meals that come in lunch pails decorated with Hasbro games and characters are served onboard select aircraft. Families with infants receive priority boarding and a special amenity kit with diapers, baby food, a bottle, and soft toys, as well as the option to reserve a bassinet seat. Qatar Airways even offers family escort services for unaccompanied minors traveling alone.
Courtesy of Southwest Airlines

RUNNER-UP

Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is an ideal family airline for a variety of reasons, but it all starts with their affordable fares. The airline offers frequent sales with flights that cost as little as $49 one-way, and everyone who flies Southwest gets two checked bags for free. Southwest Airlines transports families around the U.S. and now to Hawaii, but they also offer affordable airfare to select Caribbean destinations such as Aruba, Turks and Caicos, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica. They also feature a generous cancellation/rebooking policy, and the airline lets families with kids ages 6 and under board the plane early. Finally, Southwest has one of the most lucrative loyalty programs available today—Southwest Rapid Rewards—as well as a companion pass offer that lets anyone—including kids—fly free with a paid companion. This combination of perks makes Southwest the total package.

The Airline With the Friendliest Staff

WINNER

Southwest Airlines

Southwest isn’t a regular airline, it’s a cool airline. This is the airline to fly if you’re looking to make the hell that is flying just a little less painful, and that is mostly thanks to the staff. They’re known to tell jokes both in the terminal and on the plane, and let’s face it: we could all use a laugh after being herded like cattle through security lines and left gasping for air after running through the terminal (you know who you are: me). Southwest is great for families, too, as they are especially warm toward kids and groups. They play trivia games at the gate, and often the prizes are drink tickets that you can redeem on your next flight. And if your group looks like it’s celebrating, they might just offer you a free drink on the plane, no ticket necessary.
Courtesy of Hawaiian Airlines

RUNNER-UP

Hawaiian Airlines

Hawaiian Airlines feels like a genuine extension of your vacation—it begins when you board, and doesn’t end until you’re off the plane back home. One of the best-regarded airlines for traveling to and from Hawaii and throughout the islands, their good reputation is owed in large part to the staff, who is known for being attentive and personable. You won’t have to wonder if it’s time to hit the call button to get some water while you’re parched after breathing in frigid, recycled air—the flight attendants are excellent at anticipating passengers’ needs. Beyond the authentic Hawaiian hospitality, the attendants’ Hawaiian shirts and hibiscus flowers tucked behind their ears add some brightness to the service.

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