Monday, June 24, 2013

Top 10: Airlines with the best economy class cabins in 2013

In his first guest post on, Jonny Clark listed the 10 best business class cabins in the world, which instantly became one of our most popular articles. As a follow-up, we invited the founder of back to share his Top 10 Economy Classes to look out for in 2013.

“We have scoured the world for airlines that have really shown us something truly special. Whilst many airlines didn’t make the list, we’d like to state that generally over the past 12 months, we have seen airlines around the world innovate and renovate their economy products to offer a point of difference and make them better than their competitors and the competition was close, meaning many excellent carriers just missed a place,” commented Jonny.

Here are the 10 that really stood out from the rest, rated for giving the passenger the best possible experience, both from service and hard product in the air in an economy class,” he added.

The list is below and we’d love to hear your feedback. Feel free to leave your comments on this page, and don’t forget to sign-up for The Aviation Writer’s free newsletter to keep updated with the latest aviation lists, photos, videos and stories. Click here to subscribe.

Which airlines have the best economy class cabins in the world?

10. Porter
Porter Airline's Economy Class Cabin is rated as one of the world's bestPorter is an airline that knows how to deliver. A boutique short-haul airline that lives it’s tagline ‘Flying Refined’. The airline offers stylish cream leather seats, free food and drink including tipples from local micro breweries and free lounge access for all their passengers.

The airline, branded by Winkreative, is an airline that manages to provide business class efficiency and timetables, with a modern lounge style environment that wouldn’t feel out of place from a uber-trendy design agency in downtown Toronto.

Porter, which has slowly grown over the past few years, has now announced it wants to move into jet aircraft, and once they have approval from the relevant governmental bodies, we can expect to see the carrier expand a little further afield. What we like is the all encompassing brand, everything sits as one, and the service on such a small cabin, feels more like a private jet than a commercial carrier, and whilst we still don’t like the noise of a prop aircraft, the 34 inch leg room more than makes up in comfort for something like that. We just want a bit more inflight entertainment if their flights get a little longer.

  • Seat Pitch 34″ (really generous)
  • Seat Width 17″ (tight, but usual for a regional prop aircraft)
  • AVOD Just an excellent magazine, originally designed by Tyler Brule.
  • Bags One 23kg piece checked in (industry standard – except the free bit is great!)
  • Best Bits The Toronto terminal is like a business class lounge but available for all passengers.
  • Worst Bits Whilst we love the airline, the prop planes are a little noisy, still, there are jet aircraft being talked about too.
  • Visit

9. Hawaiian Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines Economy Class Cabin is rated as one of the world's best
Aloha! to one of our favourite Pacific gems. Since the launch of the Hawaiian A330, we can’t get enough of this carrier, as it beats the proverbial off other American carriers flying the US West Coast to Hawaii routes.  Whilst we have done our fair share of ‘Hawaii fun flights’ with legacy carriers such as United and Delta, Hawaiian have brought a bit of pacific sophistication to Mainland US.

The new airbus planes offer AVOD at every seat (for a small charge) and the best bits are the complimentary drinks and food that make the carrier feel like not everything is about making money. The Island’s traditions are a big deal for Hawaiian, and Hibiscus and Leis can be seen on the flight attendants, Koa-nut garlands on the men too. Now that Hawaiian are expanding across the pacific to Korea, China and Japan, there is even more reason to fly with this wonderful airline. From check-in to arrival, it’s a bit of Pacific spirit we can’t get enough of.

  • Seat Pitch 30″-32″ (decent for the length of flight)
  • Seat Width 18″-18.5″ (great width, but be warned, generally speaking on American flights, this can be a little tight)
  • AVOD Available on A330′s, overhead screens on 767s and Hana Hou magazine on 717s.
  • Bags One carry on case and one personal item (hold bags start at $25 for trans pacific, or only $17 for inter-island)
  • Best Bits A330′s, great to fly on and personal TV’s make for an enjoyable trip. 717′s give great entertainment out of the window, so book a window seat.
  • Worst Bits 767′s, when on one, you want to be on an A330.
  • Visit

8. Starflyer
Starflyer's Economy Class Cabin is rated as one of the world's best
Starflyer, who featured in our Top 10 liveries last month certainly know how to make low cost look and feel cool. With personal LCD monitors for every seat, there are video channels, music, maps and more for every passenger, whatsmore, the entertainment is available for use from landing gear up to landing gear down.

Whilst you can charge your own mobile phone or laptop, they also have rechargeable mobile phone batteries onboard, incase you are one angry birds moment away from a dead device. Let’s not forget complimentary drinks as another tick for the airline, and virtually unheard of for a low cost carrier. Another nice touch is that centre seats in the 3 x 3 across cabin, (notoriously the last ones to go) can be converted into cocktail tables, giving you even more space for your personal belongings. In short this airline succeeds in making a low cost trip, a chic affair, and like Virgin America, proves low cost can actually be cool.

  • Seat Pitch 34″ (to be verified)
  • Seat Width 18″ (more than enough for short flights)
  • AVOD Available on every flight.
  • Bags One 15kg piece checked in and one hand luggage – up to 10kgs (amazing considering most LCCs charge for this now)
  • Best Bits Apart from the uber-cool black exterior and interior, all the extras for no extra cost.
  • Worst Bits Only 9 destinations. boo.
  • Visit

7. Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic's Economy Class Cabin is rated as one of the world's best
Virgin Atlantic have finally managed to get their product in line, after a fairly damaging difference between their economy product flying leisure routes from Gatwick and the business routes flying from Heathrow. Comments used to vary wildly dependant on which aircraft and route was flown.

Whilst we are self confessed lovers of the Virgin brand, (and see the bigger picture) we think they do stand out as the most preferential carrier between themselves and rival BA, it’s great to see they have invested in a problem that was around for a few years and finally brought in line their cabin offering fleet wide. Actually, the Gatwick route now offers a much more advanced and reliable entertainment system than the once legacy Heathrow routes. It’s the small touches that we like, like ice-cream mid route and welcome cocktails that make this airline stand out. What we really like now is that you can watch the TV from gate to gate, allowing on average another hour’s worth of entertainment. The cabin service whilst not as refined as Asian carriers, is heart-felt and their new company slogan, flying in the face of ordinary certainly rings true.

  • Seat Pitch 31″ (extra legroom seats available for purchase at the airport)
  • Seat Width 17.5″ (fairly decent)
  • AVOD Available on every flight, the new JAM system includes touchscreen technology.
  • Bags One 23kg piece checked in and one hand luggage. (industry standard)
  • Best Bits The entertainment usually has more movies and TV channels that you want to watch than you can watch in a return flight, and now can be watched gate-to-gate.
  • Worst Bits A little more legroom would be nice, without having to pay for it.
  • Visit

6. Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways Economy Class Cabin is rated as one of the world's best
Qatar Airways has often touted itself as the best airline in the world, and quite rightly so. It won Airline of the year 2011 and 2012. Whilst the product is undeniably faultless, and the airline continues to invest to make their product the best they possibly can, we can’t help but feel the airline really is just an airline.

There is nothing wrong with that, in fact we are always constantly bombarded by atmospheric advertising campaigns from other airlines that make their airlines feel like ‘a bar’, ‘a nightclub’, a ‘lounge’ or your own ‘bedroom’.

Qatar give the impression they want to be the best airline out there, not the best lounge and this seems to be winning them plenty of accolades. The airline offers great innovations for it’s passengers, especially in their new 787 aircraft, including a dual screen function, meaning passengers can multi task on their AVOD screen, or why not send a text from the air or even surf the web on WiFi. Our secret favourite element is the Spongebob kids kit that will keep your child amused for hours. (Although you better learn the lyrics and get ready to sing along!)

  • Seat Pitch 32-34″ (777′s for more pitch than Airbus planes)
  • Seat Width 17.5″-18.9″ (very comfortable)
  • AVOD Available on every flight on touchscreens 10.6″ in size.
  • Bags Two 23kg pieces checked in and one hand luggage. (very generous)
  • Best Bits The 787 is an excellent new aircraft for the airline, definitely worth a trip.
  • Worst Bits If you don’t like the colour maroon, you better bring an eye mask.
  • Visit

5. Etihad Airways
Etihad Airways Economy Class Cabin is rated as one of the world's best
Etihad Airways is really pushing the meaning of airline quality, and making other airlines watch their backs as their continued advancements help to make their ‘guests’ (rather than passengers) more welcome and cared for than almost any other international airline in the world.

The cabin feels relaxing and the modern prints used on their soft furnishings help keep the cabin contemporary. Mixing the comfort of the cabin with technological wonders such as in seat power and 10.4″ touchscreen personal entertainment means that almost all of your desires are catered for. What Etihad really excel with is the quality of their catering. They cleverly manage to excel above and beyond their guests estimations, at a price which seems very reasonable. As they continue their expansion plan, quality isn’t dropping, but their network is increasing, meaning this carrier offers ‘one-stop’ luxury to all the major destinations in the world.

  • Seat Pitch 31-34″ (777′s for more pitch than Airbus planes)
  • Seat Width 17″-17.5″ (a little bit narrow, similar to the width expected on short haul)
  • AVOD Available on every flight on touchscreens 10.6″ in size.
  • Bags One 20kg piece checked in and one hand luggage. (two pieces allowed on journeys to Northern America)
  • Best Bits We love the interiors, but more importantly, the food is excellent.
  • Worst Bits Seats are a little narrow for a long flight, but cabins are rarely full, giving a better chance to stretch out.
  • Visit

4. Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines Economy Class Cabin is rated as one of the world's bestThis is an airline that treats economy passengers like business class passengers, in fact, many of its economy class travellers are travelling on business. This is the reason Singapore Airlines is still seen as the most prestigious airline in the world, facing off newer rivals such as Emirates, Qatar or Etihad. Even since it’s split from now Malaysian Airlines, the airline has forged itself as the pinnacle of quality.

From it’s vast entertainment library, to it’s continuing investment into it’s hard product, this airline hasn’t rested on it’s laurels to be the best, and whilst not on the best of our list, this is purely down to the anti-competitive prices still attributed to flying with the carrier. Other airlines are now starting to offer an equal product, perhaps with a different finish to it, at a reduced price. We also feel that the airline, whilst continuing to polish and protect its unique product, hasn’t really invested many new products into their economy class (bar the inclusion of WiFi fleet wide), unlike Air New Zealand for example, and instead have invested more heavily into the front of the plane.

  • Seat Pitch 32-34″ (777′s for more pitch than Airbus planes)
  • Seat Width 17.5″-19″ (A380s offer wider seats than the 777′s)
  • AVOD Available on every flight on screens 10.6″ in size, featuring over 1000 entertainment options.
  • Bags One 20kg piece checked in and one hand luggage. (varies depending on route)
  • Best Bits The Singapore girl, trademarked for good reason. Service and attention is the reason to fly.
  • Worst Bits Still one of the most expensive carriers to fly with, it often comes up weighing up price over quality when picking a flight.
  • Visit

3. Oman Air
Oman Air's Economy Class Cabin is rated as one of the world's best
A secret airline in the midst, our airline that ‘everyone-has-heard-of-but-still-not-flown-yet’ is more a large luxury jet than passenger airline, with the excellence in service found in Middle Eastern carriers. Oman Air has managed to secure a list of awards longer than it’s arm and yet, still most people will pick big brothers Emirates or Qatar over this genuinely excellent airline.

With a huge amount of legroom, akin to the legroom found in American carriers ‘Economy Plus’ in every seat, this airline provides more space per passenger than almost every other airline at no extra cost. The airline itself has an expanding network, and whilst not as encompassing as other middle eastern carriers, it still can carry passengers from most major cities in the West to most major cities in the East. Regularly excelling in SkyTrax’s reports, the airline is showing consistently that the experience is well above passengers expectations. If you haven’t travelled with them yet, this is a must. We hope to bring you a business class trip report with them very soon.

  • Seat Pitch 34″ (long haul aircraft – 32″ on short haul)
  • Seat Width 18″ (long haul aircraft – 17.5″ on short haul)
  • AVOD Available on every mid/long haul flight on screens 10.6″ in size, overhead tvs on 737s.
  • Bags One 20kg piece checked in and one hand luggage. (varies depending on route and ticket purchased)
  • Best Bits Relaxed, open cabins, excellent service and modern up-to-date AVOD on generally never full cabins mean for extra space and a higher level of attention.
  • Worst Bits Luggage limit could be a little bit more for economy travellers, 3 kgs less than most international carriers.
  • Visit

2. Virgin America
Virgin America's Economy Class Cabin is rated as one of the world's best
If only long haul could be like this, here at Thedesignair we applaud this upstart airline in the states for creating some truly industry-changing products, from ordering food, drink or even clothing from your seat, to live TV and videos on demand. Last year, you could even register to vote in the elections from 35,000ft. And now, you can even buy strangers a drink somewhere else on the plane without even having to strike up an awkward conversation!

The economy seats in Virgin America, in black leather and white backs are super space age, mixed with mood lighting and bright red screens are more ‘Star Trek’ when you enter than passenger plane. We like the uniforms too, although as previously mentioned, the staff can be a little hard to spot in the airport (perhaps a little too casual), when you need their help checking in! With the option to purchase lounge access or ‘Main Cabin Select’, and even wi-fi the airline offers a wealth of bolt-ons to make your flight even more enjoyable. What’s more, with news of them commencing flights to Hawaii in 2014, we are super excited to see they still have big plans.

  • Seat Pitch 32-33″ (dependant on aircraft and seat.)
  • Seat Width 19.7″ (very comfortable!)
  • AVOD The best in the business, fully integrated, heaps of movies, and TV shows, available to purchase (some for free), along with enough gadgets and gizmos to virtually do everything, bar clean the dishes at home.
  • Bags First 23kg (50lbs) piece checked in at $25 (Main cabin select have first bag for free)
  • Best Bits WiFi, Entertainment, mood lighting and in-seat power
  • Worst Bits Still a limited network with limited flights, but this is expected to get bigger and better over the next 12-18months
  • Visit

1. Air New Zealand
No surprise here that Air New Zealand should be winning the category here. Aviation innovators and the creators of the SkyCouch have tried to work out exactly what economy passengers want from their flight. Apart from some of the friendliest crews in the skies, the inflight entertainment is excellent, with a wealth of international and local films and TV programmes.

On the 777 they launched their sky couches which are the closest thing to business class at a fraction of the cost. Allowing you and someone else to share a row of economy seats, with a fold out mattress that comes from under the seats to form a 3 foot wide bed. Perfect for ‘topping and tailing’. Food is great, partnered by amazing NZ wines and is fairly consistant in quality. The 777-300′s all have laptop power to keep your own entertainment working and on the new 777-300 Aircraft, you can order food and drink from your seat IFE screen without having to reach to the dizzy heights in the ceiling to call for cabin crew.

  • Seat Pitch 31-34″ (dependant on aircraft and seat.)
  • Seat Width 17.1″ to 17.8″ (dependant on aircraft and seat.)
  • AVOD Available on every mid-long haul flight on screens 8.4″ or 10.6″ in size, overhead tvs on 737s and no entertainment (apart from spectacular views) on Beech aircraft
  • Bags One 23kg piece checked in and one hand luggage. (varies depending on route and ticket purchased)
  • Best Bits Great service, still a ‘cool’ contemporary airline to fly with, great food and excellent entertainment, mixed with brilliant innovations such as the skycouch.
  • Worst Bits The seats are a little narrow on the 777 aircraft and seat pitch isn’t as good as other carriers.
  • Visit


  1. Yes My vote for ETIHAD AIRWAYS , I saw it grow from the first day of its birth and look at it now one of the best airline in the world.

    Great Crew/team brovo ....

    1. You say, you saw it from first day, on what capacity? And what exactly has improved in your opinion?

    2. If your not flying on Etihad's freakin expensive first class the airline is junk

  2. Need to try Air New Zealand. Economy seating is 3-4-3 versus 3-3-3 on SIA.

    1. SIA's economy seating is also 3-4-3 just that if you travel on SIA's Airbus380,
      just that the seats on the upper deck are either 3-3-3 or 2-4-2.

  3. Karsten Cheung Ka HoJune 24, 2013 at 8:25 PM

    LOL where's Emirates, Asiana Airlines, Thai Airways and ANA?!

    1. Emirates is inconsistent. It's 3-4-3 and no Skycouch ;)

    2. Thai? hahahahahaha Try worst and most expensive airlines list.

  4. and LAN Airlines?

  5. What about Air Asia? Many Asians on low wages are now able to enjoy a flight to a destination that is affordable. Don't get too carried away on this prestige bit. It excludes people. Too much glamour less booked out aircraft.

    1. Ahmad Sallehuddin A SahakJune 25, 2013 at 9:13 AM

      I face-palmed myself when I read Rhys Roberts' comment...

  6. Virgin Australia are awesome. Not a huge network yet perhaps their only downfall but great FF program with EY/NZ/DL/SQ. 32" seat pitch, good premium economy rates.

  7. Nice to see Etihad in the top 10 for economy, I tried them at the end of last year for a flight to Australia, as I did not want to fork out for premium economy since premium prices have risen so much lately. I have one criticism though, sleep was constantly interrupted by constant chiming of the crew call, I love alliteration!

    1. EY flies it's best equipment to Aussie land, best service and all. Because hoggie is an Aussie. The rest is ordinary.

  8. Qatar is overrated and Doha Airport stinks until they finally complete the new airport. Always preferred Emirates to them

  9. I agree with a few. Surprised by the number of low cost north american carriers making the list. Air NEw zealand not number 1, the only good thing is the skycouch otherwise nothing to shout about. Oman air is indeed a true diamond in the dirt, but These airlines change. You can always count on SIA And Qatar for consistent, excellent service.

  10. Interesting to learn that the airline with the worst aircraft livery on the outside (according to a different article on this website) has come first inside in back cabin where all airlines have the most number of seats.

  11. Whoa! Unexpected airlines..

  12. Jetblue? All leather seats, free Direct TV, free snacks and drinks, the most legroom in coach.

  13. I'd have to agree....I find it both sad and comical that no US legacy carrier is on the list though.

    1. No US legacy carrier? Are you blind? How about Hawaiian Airlines and Virgin America?

  14. Where is garuda indonesia

    1. You answered your own's in Indonesia.

  15. Yesss we are at number 3! Oman Air ♥

  16. Laurens Earl Leroy Olijfveld Jr.June 30, 2013 at 7:21 AM


  17. Air New Zealand 777s? Ultra narrow. However other products and Skycouch are all :)

    How about Cathay?

  18. What about ANA? Excellent service, wide seats and great leg space.


  20. I seriously don't get the hype around Air New Zealand. Have you seen the pictures of their "cuddle class" (SkyCouch)? Even the ones in the airline's own marketing (above)... Necks and knees bent, the seats in front aren't reclined (if they were you would be squashed), and if your feet dare encroach into the ailse, you'll likely get it chopped off by a drinks trolley.

    Like many of NZ's "innovations" such as their self-check in kiosks (which rarely work), they're OK in theory, but in practice, they're hopeless. They're trying too hard.

    I've been unlucky enough to have flown NZ roughly 100 times in the past six years, and they're hopeless. Domestically and Trans-Tasman at least. Maybe they lift their game for long-haul.

    Plus NZ is completely over-priced. They tend to be a good 20% more expensive than any other airlines. And that's before you add on all the other fees like the one for paying by credit card.

  21. JetBlue is better than VX, it has more destinations and FREE snacks.

  22. Wow, the best airlines. I love them. This is the best choice for me for traveling to US next month. Thanks for this info!

  23. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon the blog and wished to say that I’ve truly enjoyed browsing the blog posts

  24. How about air Transat??? Great airline. I live in Toronto and am a frequent flier. I fly Air Transat weekly and they have great economy.

  25. Nice to see Etihad in the top 10 for economy,


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