World's best airline? It has to be Asian

They’re calling it the Asian century and that’s where the money is when it comes to air travel. And it’s more than a bunch of clichés, as last week’s Skytrax awards demonstrated.

All but one carrier rated in the top 10 in Skytrax’s World Airline Awards come from the region that stretches from the Persian Gulf to Japan and the only exception, Turkish Airlines, lives a couple of kilometres from the Asian border.

And I’m especially pleased to report that at least four of the top 10, including the top two, are airlines committed to industry-leading economy seating space on their long-haul services.

Because Skytrax, an aviation industry consulting firm, has gone the extra mile in ensuring that its annual awards are transparent and (so far) apparently uncorrupted, they’re like money in the bank for the winners.

Through the year, airline awards are a dime a dozen and are used eagerly by carriers to gain a marketing advantage.

Skytrax says its World Airline Awards have “no link to any industry association or related bodies”. In a swipe at some awards, it says there is no payment for inclusion in the survey (this year some 18.8 million travellers were surveyed), no payment to attend the awards ceremony and “no chance for airlines to self-complete the survey”.

The awards “are not subscriber based, or a profit-driven self-interest type of award program”.

Skytrax also uses the annual survey to compile a ranking of airlines from one to 100, which illustrates that, in an industry so reliant on the preferences of individual travellers, there are only the quick and the dead.

Western airlines like British Airways and Qantas that were flying high in the 1990s are now also-rans.

In just a year, Air New Zealand has slid from seventh to 17th in the rankings. The fact that Virgin Australia (#12 in the world) convincingly outranked its arch-rival Qantas (#15) and was voted the best airline in the Asia-Pacific region is an invaluable tool to persuade its competitor’s lucrative business flyers switch brands.

The fact that Indonesia’s Garuda outranked both Virgin Australia and Qantas in the eyes of travellers and was voted the world's regional airline of the year is one of the surprises. But it indicates just what can be achieved by a competent management team, headed by former banker Emirsyah Satar, that has set about rebuilding an airline that was previously seen as a cheap and dangerous Third World carrier.

With a near-new fleet of Boeings and Airbuses, Garuda says it is aiming to be a “five-star” airline. It has been removed from the European Union’s list of banned carriers and will more than double its fleet of 81 planes in the next three years.

Even Tiger Airways (#86) outranks industry stalwarts like Royal Jordanian Airways and Air Pacific (Fiji), which shows that it must be doing something right. It, too, acquired a poor reputation for safety and punctuality up to and including its grounding in Australia a year ago for being an “imminent danger” to public safety. It’s now closely scrutinised by the Australian safety regulator and its on-time reliability, once the worst, is now the best in the industry.

It’s most encouraging that the best airlines are also the most generous with the space they allocate to those in cattle class. As the world gets wealthier, its people are better fed and physically bigger. They’re harder than ever to wedge into those tiny economy seats still used by space misers like Qantas and Virgin Australia.

Their accountants should be forced to fly down the back of the bus at least once a week.

Have you travelled recently with one of the top 10 Skytrax airlines? Is there an airline at the top of the rankings that doesn't deserve the accolade? Is there a dark horse way down the rankings that should have been promoted? Post a comment below.

Here's the full top 100 from the World Airline Awards.

1    Qatar Airways
2    Asiana Airlines        
3    Singapore Airlines          
4    Cathay Pacific Airways           
5    ANA All Nippon Airways   
6    Etihad Airways   
7    Turkish Airlines          
8    Emirates     
9    Thai Airways International   
10    Malaysia Airlines   
11    Garuda Indonesia         
12    Virgin Australia           
13    EVA Air   
14    Lufthansa       
15    Qantas Airways          
16    Korean Air        
17    Air New Zealand   
18    Swiss Int'l Air Lines  
19    Air Canada   
20    Hainan Airlines       
21    Dragonair       
22    AirAsia           
23    Oman Air          
24    Aegean Airlines           
25    South African Airways           
26    Virgin America   
27    Bangkok Airways          
28    British Airways           
29    China Southern Airlines    
30    Jetstar Airways   
31    Finnair   
32    TAM Airlines   
33    China Airlines   
34    KLM Royal Dutch Airlines   
35    Japan Airlines   
36    SilkAir   
37    Air China   
38    LAN Airlines           
39    Austrian Airlines   
40    AirAsiaX   
41    easyJet   
42    TACA Airlines   
43    Westjet      
44    China Eastern Airlines   
45    Hong Kong Airlines           
46    Jetstar Asia   
47    Vietnam Airlines   
48    Air France      
49    Alaska Airlines   
50    Virgin Atlantic   
51    Southwest Airlines   
52    jetBlue Airways          
53    Air Astana       
54    Azul Airlines   
55    Indigo Airlines   
56    Avianca    
57    Delta Air Lines   
58    Jet Airways           
59    bmi British Midland   
60    American Eagle Airlines   
61    Copa Airlines   
62    Air Nostrum   
63    Brussels Airlines   
64    United Airlines   
65    Air Berlin       
66    Kulula          
67    TAP Air Portugal   
68    SAS Scandinavian Airlines   
69    TRIP Airlines   
70    SriLankan Airlines   
71    Air Mauritius       
72    Transaero Airlines   
73    Baboo Airlines         
74    Norwegian         
75    NIKI      
76    Air Transat   
77    Hong Kong Express   
78    Kenya Airways       
79    Kingfisher Airlines   
80    Hawaiian Airlines   
82    Gulf Air   
83    Alitalia   
84    American Airlines   
85    Aeroflot Russian Airlines   
86    Tiger Airways   
87    Saudi Arabian Airlines   
88    Icelandair   
89    Shenzhen Airlines   
90    Porter Airlines           
91    Aer Arann   
92    Tianjin Airlines   
93    Nok Air   
94    Royal Jordanian Airlines   
95    Egyptair   
96    Air Pacific   
97    Aer Lingus   
98    Aer Busan   
99    Cyprus Airways   
100    Skymark Airlines