The Skytrax Passenger Choice Awards for 2021 was released at the end of September. The list of the world’s best airlines is a round up of the usual suspects for lists like this. Qatar Airways came out on top for the sixth time in the last 10 years and held on to the No. 1 spot it earned in the last survey.

Skytrax has been conducting annual airline passenger satisfaction surveys since 1999. The survey is not restricted to member airlines or a pre-selected choice of airline. Any airline in the world can receive votes.

Because Covid greatly reduced the the amount of international travel, the survey was expanded to cover the period from September 2019 to July 2021. It represents consumer sentiment during normal travel times combined with some travel during the global pandemic.

Some facts about the survey methodolgy:

  • 13.42 million online surveys were counted in the final results,
  • 88% of the surveys were submitted prior to March 2020,
  • Survey entries are screened to eliminate duplicate or ineligible entries,
  • Over 100 customer nationalities participated in the survey,
  • Customer surveys are provided in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Japanese.

The rankings were based on passenger evaluations in four general areas: (1) Covid 19 safety, (2) cabin service, (3) ground and airport experience, and (4) onboard product. Notably, opinions on an airline’s frequent flyer program are excluded from the survey and rankings.

Skytrax 2021 Passenger Choice Awards Top 10 Airlines

  1. Qatar Airways
  2. Singapore Airlines
  3. ANA All Nippon Airways
  4. Emirates
  5. Japan Airlines
  6. Cathay Pacific Airways
  7. EVA Air
  8. Qantas Airways
  9. Hainan Airlines
  10. Air France

Compared to the last survey, Air France and Japan Airlines are new additions to the top 10 and Lufthansa and Thai Airways dropped out.

The rest of the top 20 in order are British Airways, China Southern, Lufthansa, Aeroflot, Garuda Indonesia, KLM, Turkish Airlines, Swiss International Airlines, Bangkok Airways, and Air New Zealand.

The full list of the top 100 airlines is here and rankings by region are here.

My Take

The airlines in the top 10 are all solid choices. There can always be quibbling with any rankings, but there are no outright laughers like with the 2021 list that ranked United Airlines No. 8 and had Hawaiian Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines in the top 20.

Except for Emirates and Air France, the top 10 airlines are based in the Asia/Pacific region, and except for Hainan and EVA Air, all top 10 airlines offer international first class service.

Qatar Airways deserves the top spot based mainly on its outstanding business class product (QSuite) and service and its lounges at Hamad International Airport. Qatar’s business class service is better than first class service on some other airlines, American Airlines for one.

A typical Qatar Airways business class meal on a long distance international flight includes a cocktail and nuts starter, amuse bouche, soup or salad, an individual basket of warm assorted breads, entrée, dessert and chocolates in addition to a variety of wine, liquor and cocktails. The cabin crews are highly trained in the proper way to set the table and serve each meal.

The main meal service is quite a production. These photos are from the first meal service on a flight from New York to Doha, Qatar.

Qatar’s QSuite, one of the first business class seats with a door, remains one of the most stylish and technologically advanced business class seats on any commercial airliner. 


Qatar Airways business and first class lounges at Doha’s Hamad International set a high bar that is unmatched as far as style and décor in my experience.

Al Mourjan business class lounge Doha:

The Al Safwa first class lounge Doha:

Delta Air Lines comes in at No. 30 as the highest rated North American carrier. Delta also features a business class seat with a door on most of its long-haul international flights. Delta, however, can’t come close to Qatar or any of the top 20 in terms of lounges and onboard service.

How To Experience World Class Air Travel

The good news is anyone can enjoy flying one of these amazing airlines. The simple way is just to buy a ticket to some far away destination. Roundtrip tickets in business class usually cost around $5,000 and up with first class being about twice that amount. Occasionally, I’ve found roundtrip tickets in business class on Qatar, American or British Airways for as low as $2,200. Still that is a lot of dough to get from A to B and back.

Buying premium economy or economy tickets is much cheaper. While the difference in the experience on the best airlines compared to the experience on average or below airlines ones is noticeable in economy and premium economy, business or first class is where the best airlines will really knock your socks off.

The least costly ways to travel in business or first class on the best airlines is to use frequent flyer miles. A good price for roundtrip in business class on a top 10 airline starts at around 140,000 miles and 200,000 for first class.

Acquiring those miles is harder than it used to be since many airlines have gone to revenue-based programs that award redeemable miles based on the price paid for a ticket rather than the distance flown. Ironically, the best way to get the frequent flyer miles required is not by flying frequently.

Credit cards are the kings of the frequent flyer programs. Airlines issue their own credit cards and more importantly just about all of the big banks and credit card companies and many small ones have credit cards that award miles or points that can be converted to frequent flyer miles.

The fastest way to accumulate credit card points or miles is through the bonuses offered for signing up for cards and meeting short-term spending goals. Typical bonuses are 50,000 – 75,000 points or miles. Bonuses of 100,000 points or more are also available sometimes.

After bonuses, points and miles can be earned faster by spending on the categories that earn more than one point or mile per unit of spend. During the pandemic with the cutbacks in travel, many credit cards have increased the rewards for travel spending and many everyday purchases like gas and groceries. Earning three to five points or miles on things you would buy anyway is a great deal. As long as the cardholder manages to avoid interest charges and other fees, credit card spend is the best option to earn valuable miles and points that can be converted into amazing travel experiences.

Overall Impression

This survey correctly identifies the world’s best airlines based on general reputation and my experience. You have a very good chance of receiving an enjoyable experience flying any of the top ranked airlines no matter the class of service you are traveling in.