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You’re pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to international, long haul flights. Plenty of airlines have their hats in the ring, including many national carriers. Even low cost carriers are looking to get involved in long haul. But let’s face it: Not all airlines are created equal, especially when it comes to flying long-haul. And if you’re gonna be sat on a plane for a minimum of 6 hours, you want it to be a good one.

Your on-board comfort will largely be defined by your airline, aircraft and seat classification – and with most of us choosing flights based on budget considerations, it actually pays to know which long haul airlines deliver the best service. Then, when it comes to an airline sale, you can narrow down your cheap flight search to get the most comfort for your cash. Come on, it just makes sense.So which exactly is the best long haul airline?

We’ll look at a few things to help us decide, ‘cos we believe in being fair and thorough. But if that’s not your thing, you can jump to each section too.

Erm, does it matter which airline I fly with?

No, it doesn’t – they’ll all get you on holiday and that’s the main thing! But we reckon it’s good to understand the differences between what you’ll get in economy class from one airline to the next, especially when you’ll spending a good portion (if not all) of your day there.

That being said, ask any frequent flier their favourite airline and the chances are you’ll be met with a bunch of different answers. But ask enough people and you’ll begin to notice the same airlines crop up continuously. The same goes for airline award winners.

There’s a good reason for this. The international air travel industry is on track to be a trillion dollar industry by 2028, and the commercial aviation market alone is worth well over 150 billion dollars at the time of writing. That’s why they’re continually investing in more innovations (especially in first class), better service and improved passenger comfort. Most passengers vote with their wallet – and the airlines want in.

In other words, there’s no single best long haul airline. But there are a few top contenders, so let’s start with those airlines which have bagged the best Skytrax ratings.

Skytrax ratings for long haul airlines

Skytrax ratings are an industry standard for airlines. Think of it like the equivalent to a Which? rating for household products, or the Oscars of the aviation world. They rate various aspects of quality and service for each airline to create an overall rating.

Skytrax ratings include reviews of:

Airline staff

A high standard of friendliness and quality of service from all employees, from ground staff to cabin crew.

Meal quality

Does the airline serve tasty, appetising snacks, meals and drinks, including various catering options such as vegetarian and dairy-free?

Entertainment

The scope of free entertainment, plus its accessibility (think back of seat vs television screens) contributes to this score.

Ground services

How’s the ground service at departure and arrival? Think easy che­ck-in and boarding processes, considerate baggage handling and helpful airport staff.

Punctuality

On-time­ flights are crucial. Nobody digs delays or latene­ss. Punctuality shows reliability and expertise­ at scheduling.

Seat comfort

Seat pitch, legroom and overall comfort form this score – an essential consideration for long-haul flights!

Value for money

Does the airline provide a good service compared to the ticket price? What’s included as standard vs extra costs?

When it comes to comfort, the aircraft matters

The casual traveller may be unaware of how much the aircraft itself plays a part in your flight experience. Beyond seat classes and positioning, many of us don’t give a second thought to the actual aircraft itself.

There are a few variations between aircraft though – and when it comes to squeezing every last penny of value from your long haul flights, it pays to know the difference.

Psst, if you’re on mobile, swipe to see the nuts and bolts of several major aircraft types.

Aspect Boeing 777 Boeing 787 Dreamliner Airbus A350 XWB Boeing 747 Airbus A380
Configuration Twin-aisle Twin-aisle Twin-aisle Four-aisle Twin-deck, four-aisle
Seating capacity Varies (typically 300-400) Varies (typically 200-300) Varies (typically 300-400) Varies (typically 350-450) Varies (typically 500-600)
Cabin width Wide Wide Wide Wide Very wide
Passenger amenities Entertainment systems, spacious cabins, various seating classes Larger windows, quieter cabins, mood lighting, improved air quality Advanced cabin lighting, larger windows, quieter cabins Spacious cabins, various seating classes, potential for unique amenities Spacious cabins, various seating classes, potential for unique amenities
Interior design Varies by airline, generally spacious with overhead storage Modern design, larger windows, LED lighting Modern design, larger windows, LED lighting Varies by airline, potential for spacious interiors Spacious with potential for unique cabin layouts and features
In-flight entertainment Varied, but typically includes seatback screens with a range of content Advanced entertainment systems with high-definition screens Advanced entertainment systems with high-definition screens Varied, but typically includes seatback screens with a range of content Varied, but typically includes seatback screens with a range of content

Which airlines fly long haul from the UK?

For the sake of cohesiveness (and your own sanity), we haven’t included every single airline in this list (there’s 232 airlines operating globally). We’re focusing on airlines that fly long haul from the UK because if you’re reading this, that’s probably where you are.

There are currently 20 airlines that offer long haul flights from the UK. We’ve selected the most important considerations for long haul flights:

  • Value for money

  • Seat comfort

  • Aircraft comfort

  • In-flight entertainment (TV/audio)

  • Meal quality

So how do our long haul airlines fare?

Rating the best long haul airlines from the UK

Right, that’s a lot of stars to decipher, so for this next bit we concocted a fancy formula to crunch the numbers and give us the best long haul airline for wherever you’re flying to.

Ready?

Best for flights to North America: Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic will get you to tons of destinations across the USA and Canada in style and comfort, for a great price. Keep an eye out for ticket sales and last minute bargains too!

Honourable mention: United Airlines

Best for flights to South America: KLM

It may be the world’s oldest airline, but KLM offers a world-class service at great value prices. And if you’re a Skyteam Alliance member, you can collect rewards too.

Honourable mention: British Airways

Best for flights to India: Etihad Airways

Enjoy super comfortable seats, a 3 course meal and your own personal entertainment system on board an Etihad Airways flight.

Honourable mention: Gulf Air

Best for flights to Australia: Qantas

Qantas offer the fastest routes to Australia and consistently high standards, from the moment you check in ’til you collect your case from the carousel. Plus, you get lounge access too. Bonus.

Honourable mention: Lufthansa

Best for flights to the Pacific: Cathay Pacific

From their award-winning service and modern fleet to their state-of-the-art cabins and world-class entertainment, Cathay Pacific flights provide staggering value, we reckon.

Honourable mention: Malaysia Airlines

Best for flights to the Caribbean: British Airways

British Airways has a strong presence in the Caribbean, with a year-round service to more than 13 destinations, from Antigua to Barbados to Trinidad & Tobago, plus an increased frequency during peak travel seasons like winter holidays and during the summer.

Honourable mention: Virgin Atlantic

Best for flights to the Middle East: Qatar Airways

Multi-award winners Qatar Airways provide a super-cushty flight experience, especially when it comes to entertainment. You’ll never be bored on their aircraft, with over 4,000 entertainment options and the best food in economy class.

Honourable mention: Oman Airways

Best for flights to Africa: Emirates

With a five-star Skytrax rating, Emirates’ economy class feels anything but cheap, with large, comfortable seats and one of the best in-flight entertainment systems in the sky.

Honourable mention: Turkish Airlines

Best for flights to Asia: Singapore Airlines

Singapore Airlines have won so many awards, it’s hard to keep count. We’re talking outstanding and attentive service (with a smile, we might add!), comfy, clean aircraft with top-notch entertainment, and tons of destinations to choose from. Topped off with competitive prices. Oh, and the possibility of a layover at Changi Airport, voted the World’s Best Airport a whopping 11 times. Woah.

Honourable mention: EVA Airlines

Phew, that was a lot to take in. But now you’ve got the basics down, how about getting some cheap flights booked?

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