Q&A: I’ll be flying to Thailand and am a bit confused by all the airline options. It’s my first time flying to another country and I’m not familiar with most of the international carriers. Which ones are the best and which should I avoid? Take care.
– Chris O’Shea of Watertown, Mass.
A: Good question Chris. I’ll never forget one of my first international flights – trash all over the cabin floors, in the aisles, under the seats. Flight attendants no where to be seen. And an aroma similar to a New York landfill in mid-August wifting throughout the plane. I’ll tell you which airline in just a moment. But first . . .
If you’ve never flown internationally, then you’re in for a bit up a shock Chris. Flight times can exceed 10 hours easily. I’ve been on flights that routinely hit 24 hours in duration with multiple layovers and plane changes. I was even on one that took 32 hours! Since flight times can vary greatly due to unexpected delays on the airlines part, I prefer to use safety, service, comfort, and cleanliness as my method to rank the best airlines when flying internationally, instead of flight time.
After years of wandering, I’ve found two international airlines that do all four very well. And they’re the only two I fly to Thailand, one of our Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2023.
Which airlines are the safest?
In general, flying is extremely safe. Accidents are very rare and you should have no fears about flying from a safety point. But I have kept tabs on airline safety over the years and found some airlines consistently pop up as the safest based on various industry safety ratings and records. These airlines are:
- Air New Zealand
- Singapore Airlines
- and ANA (All Nippon Airlines).
If an airline doesn’t have a good reputation and safety record, I avoid it. Additionally, it’s always a good idea to follow safety procedures, pay attention to safety briefings, and be aware of emergency exits and procedures when flying. If there is an incident, personal responsibility will be key to your safety. But the truth is, all international airlines can be considered safe.
Which airlines have the best service?
While safety is a natural concern when flying, there is another that can make or break your flight experience: service. I feel service depends on a lot of variables that are hard to define. For example, service can vary within an airline due to staffing issues beyond their control. Flight attendants are human and they may have a bad day or two. I’ve had both great and horrible service on the same airline, across multiple carriers. Only one stands out in this category as very consistent: ANA (All Nippon Airlines).
Regardless of the airline, I’ve found there are 3 things you do have control over that can help improve the service you experience when flying internationally:
- Be nice. Smile to the crew and let them know you appreciate their service during the flight. Imagine service nearly 300 passengers for 10 hours or more – while stuck in a confined space with no real opportunity recharge. It’s not easy – they need all the smiles they can get!
- Be self-reliant as much as possible. Be pro-active in handling small things yourself. Flight crews are generally very busy during long flights and may not visit your seat for quite a while. So it’s ok to walk to the galley and ask for something directly..
- Follow the crews directions, without argument. Even if the flight attendat has a bad attitude, cut them some slack – think of it as your chance to be a positive force in their life and help them have a better day by being supportive.
They appreciate the passengers that do so and may even give you extra drinks or snacks in return. Even if they don’t, you’ve provided a positive model for them and that benefit’s your self-worth immensely. I also encourge you to study up on these 13 Ways to Get Better Service In-Flight.
Which airlines are the most comfortable?
Comfort is a whole other issue and is totally based on the type of aircraft you’re flying in. As we all know, none (except first class) are very comfortable. They’re all cramped. Some might give you an extra inch in seat width but after ten or more hours, just about any seat feels un-sittable. So, in my book, “all sin is equal” when it comes to the comfort of airlines – none really standout.
While there isn’t much you can do about the seat itself but you can decide which seat you sit in. For example, I always favor the window seat. It has a bit more elbow room and I can enjoy the view. It also gives me control of the window shade so i can nap easier. Since I rarely get out of my seat, easy access to the aisle is not issue. Blogger “One Mile At A Time” goes into depth on the issues, with 7 Reasons the Window Seat is the Best.
On the other, my wife loves the aisle seat. She likes to get up and walk around the cabin frequently. It also provides her faster access to the restroom (no hopping over other passengers to get out of the seat row). Plus, it lets her stretch her legs a bit into the aisle. The Points Guy even has 6 Reasons You Should Always Pick the Aisle Seat.
Window or aisle seat – it really is a personal preference since both have solid benefits. But we’re both agreed that a middle seat is a nightmare. Less leg and elbow room, trapped between potentially annoying strangers for hours . . . pretty obvious.
Which airlines are the cleanest?
There is also the issue of public health on airlines. And it’s a big one for me. Airborne germs are generally taken care of by the advanced air fiiltering systems that modern airlines have. But the simple act of cleaning surfaces and picking up trash are labor intensive. Public health is directly impacted by cleanliness onboard the plane and you should be aware of it when boarding and during theflight. The airlines we’ve found to have the cleanest, most hygienic flight cabins (and who consistently keep them that way during the flight) are:
- ANA (All Nippon Airlines), operating internationally out of Japan
- Korean Air, operating internationally out of South Korea
- Alaska Airlines, operating internationally out of the United States.
And even Reader’s Digest agrees with us, with ANA and Korean Air both making their list. By the way, you’ll find that Alaska Airlines has an older fleet and its age often shows in the cabin. But they do a great job of keeping it clean throughout the flight.
Which airline is the dirtiest?
Unfortunately, some airlines don’t take the time to properly clean their flight cabins. We’ve experienced this first hand and have had others express issues they’ve encountered. Without a doubt, based on our own experience and that of our fellow wanderers, there is one airline that is clearly recognized as the dirtiest: Qatar Airlines (we will not link to it due to their low standards of hygiene).
Qatar Airlines has consistently provided us and our fellow wanderers a poor flying experience. Once onboard, cleaning by the crew was nonexistent. Their passengers routinely throw trash on the floor of the cabin, aisleways, and in the toilets. They notoriously store trash under their seats, preventing passengers behind them from using the area for their feet or daypacks.
We’ve also heard RyanAir has dirty cabins. We’ve never flown them but this video taken onboard a recent RyanAir flight will make us think twice!
This also makes us questions whether their flight cabins are actually being sanitized between flights. And you have to wonder if a dirty airline is actually maintaining the aircraft like they should? Conditions were unhygienic and potentially hazardous. Needless to say, after a long flight, we felt very dirty and unhappy with Qatar Airlines.
We were very disappointed in our Qatar Airlines experience and will not fly them again. We cannot recommend Qatar Airlines. We advise, in the strongest way possible: do not fly Qatar Airlines.
Where to check airline safety records
Incidents and accidents with airlines are relatively rare. It is true that most major airlines have good safety records and they are all subject to rigid safety regulations.
But if you’re still concerned about an airline’s safety, you can check safety records and incident reports from reputable aviation safety organizations such as:
- The International Air Transport Association (IATA)
- The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
- The Aviation Safety Network.
So, to answer your question Chris, we consider ANA (All Nippon Airlines) and Korean Air and as the best international carriers, especially when flying to Thailand. And we suggest you avoid Qatar Airlines, no matter how cheap the ticket is. The health risk and discomfort is not worth it. As you start planning your trip to Thailand, check our other posts: