Emirates, Virgin America win Passenger Choice Awards

Window or aisle? Coffee or Coke? Choices for airline passengers are shrinking faster than the on-board snack. But there are some airlines that are still mindful of the passenger experience and they were announced last night at the 2011 Passenger Choice Awards.

Winning the top awards for Best Overall Passenger Experience were Emirates and Virgin America. The top awards were split between larger airlines, with over 50 IFE-equipped (In Flight Entertainment-Equipped) planes in fleet (Emirates), and smaller airlines, with under 50 IFE-quipped planes in fleet (Virgin America). Not surprisingly, Emirates and Virgin America each won for their respective regions, Middle East and Americas, and Virgin America also pulled in awards for Best Inflight Video and Best Ground Experience. Another Virgin brand, V Australia – the international airline of Virgin Australia – won Passenger Choice awards for Best in Region: Asia and Australasia, Best IFE User Interface, and Best Food and Beverage. The only U.S.-based airline to win a Passenger Choice award was JetBlue, which won for Best Cabin Ambiance.

Here are all of the winners:

  • Best Overall Passenger Experience (Over 50 IFE EQUIPPED IN FLEET) – Emirates
  • Best Overall Passenger Experience (Up to 50 IFE EQUIPPED IN FLEET) – Virgin America
  • Best in Region: Africa – South African Airways
  • Best in Region: Americas – Virgin America
  • Best in Region: Asia and Australasia – V Australia
  • Best in Region: Europe – Virgin Atlantic
  • Best in Region: Middle East – Emirates
  • Best Inflight Publication – Avianca
  • Best IFE User Interface – V Australia
  • Best Inflight Connectivity & Communications – Oman Air
  • Best Inflight Video – Virgin America
  • Best Cabin Ambiance – JetBlue
  • Best Food & Beverage in conjunction with IFSA – V Australia
  • Best Ground Experience – Virgin America

Another winner at the Passenger Choice Awards was Air New Zealand, which won the Avion Award for Best Single Achievement in Passenger Experience for the Skycouch Family Experience (pictured above and in this gallery), which is about as comfortable as you can expect to get in economy class on a commercial flight in the foreseeable future.

Photo courtesy Air New Zealand

Gadling’s favorite airlines for 2011

Even with airlines falling over themselves in an effort to generate profits out of new fees and charges, flying retains some glamour and excitement. No? Not working for you? Well there are mileage programs to exploit and perks to chase. And even in the direst landscape for customers, there are always new routes to sample, smiling flight attendants to befriend, and reliable pilots to thank for safe landings.

Going into 2011, it appears that Virgin America is Gadling’s favorite airline. Virgin America sails above the competition with their standard of service, their appealing overall product, and their general freshness.

Other airlines we especially like or tolerate for one or another reason include easyJet, Qantas, VAustralia, Air France, Philippine Airlines, Turkish Airlines, Air New Zealand, Cathay Pacific, Jet Airways, Continental, Alaska Airlines, and Porter.

We begin with the observations of Kent Wien, Gadling’s resident pilot-contributor and the motor behind two Gadling features, namely, Cockpit Chronicles and Plane Answers.

Kent Wien. Air New Zealand. I don’t know if I was more impressed with their new line of coach sleeper seats or the friendliness of their flight attendants. Either way, Air New Zealand has managed to capture much of the recent jump in tourism traffic to New Zealand by offering an innovative cabin design and enhanced service which includes an in-flight concierge for the entire airplane. They’ve changed the look and feel of their galleys by hiding them away during boarding, since the first thing passengers see when stepping on to an airplane is the in-flight kitchen. And most of these changes were accomplished even after they were named by Air Transport World as the airline of the year for 2010.

Mike Barish. I continue to love Virgin America. They’re willing to show personality. They have a sense of humor and their use of social media is phenomenal. They have really embraced customer service and care about humanizing their brand.

Annie Scott. Air France has the best coach class of any airline I’ve flown this year, but Philippine Airlines gets ten points for calling their economy class “Fiesta Class.”

McLean Robbins. Virgin America. Am I one of many?

Meg Nesterov. Turkish Airlines has become my default carrier of choice, which is fine given their excellent service. How many other airlines will let you cancel and rebook a flight last minute and only charges a small change fee? Their in-flight meals even in coach are reliably good and always free.

Melanie Nayer. Props to Cathay Pacific. Great in-flight crew, and any airline that makes me a grilled cheese sandwich in flight is tops in my book!

Alex Robertson Textor. Porter, hands down. I like the airline so much I found a way to write a piece for their in-flight magazine. I want two dozen regional Porters around the globe, each with limited route maps, quiet, fuel-efficient planes, friendly fight attendants, and a single class of service.Catherine Bodry. Alaska Air.

Grant Martin. Virgin America & VAustralia. All of that positive press is happening for a reason. These two airlines have the best service out there, and their hard products are equally gorgeous. Get to Australia next year while competition is still high and ticket prices are rock bottom.

Karen Walrond. I fly mostly on Continental because I live in its hub city and that’s where my airmiles are. Here in Houston, we’re nervous about the merger between Continental and United. We hope nothing will be ruined in the process!

David Farley. Jet Airways.

Sean McLachlan. easyJet. Everyone complains about them, myself included, but damn they’re cheap and convenient. And hey, at least they aren’t Ryanair!

Laurel Miller. Qantas for their consistently excellent service, staff, and on-time departures.

[Image: Flickr | LWY]

Win a surf vacation to Byron Bay, Australia

Have you ever wanted to visit Australia? How about learn to surf? If you said yes to either one, or both, of those questions, then we’ve got just the contest for you. Tourism New South Wales is sponsoring a contest in which one lucky winner, and their guest, will be whisked off to Australia for five days of fun and sun on the lovely beaches of Byron Bay. Once there, they’ll learn how to surf and go kayaking with dolphins, while enjoying the famous Aussie hospitality.

To enter the contest, simply click here and fill out the form, which includes a short survey with a couple of travel related questions. From there, you’ll sit back and wait for the contest to end on November 30th. If you’re picked as the winner, you’ll get round trip airfare from Los Angeles to Brisbane courtesy of V Australia, five nights stay at the luxurious Byron at Byron Resort, surfing lessons from Mojo Surf, and much more.

But if you’re not lucky enough to win the contest, you may just want to take a trip to Byron Bay anyway. After all, it is one of the best beach destinations around. To plan and book your own Australian adventure, check out Springboard Vacations where you’ll find a host of options for visiting Oz. For example, their Ultimate Spa Package includes 10 days of pampering at some of the best resorts down under, while their Learn to Surf Package gives you everything you need for a six day aquatic adventure, including two free surf lessons and a bike tour of Sydney.

Between the sweepstakes and these great package deals, you don’t have any excuse to not visit Byron Bay soon.

Virgin America, VAustralia, Virgin Blue offer frequent flyer partnership points

I love when family members play well together.

News from the Virgin camp: flyers on any of the carriers three brands – Virgin America, VAustralia and Virgin Blue – will have the option to earn points on any of the three loyalty programs.

“Travelers around the world seek out Virgin airlines for their unrivalled value, brilliant service and innovative amenities, and we’re pleased to partner with Virgin Blue and V Australia to allow our loyal guests to earn Virgin frequent flyer credits wherever they are flying– in the U.S., Asia Pacific or Australia,” said Virgin America President and Chief Executive Officer David Cush, in a press release provided by Virgin America.

Here’s how it works: If you’re a VAustralia or Virgin Blue Velocity member, you can earn points in your Velocity account by flying any of the three carriers. Likewise, if you’re a Virgin America Elevate member, you’ll earn Elevate points when you fly any of the three brands.

Elevate redemption levels will start at 40,000 points for flights on V Australia and 6,000 points for flights on Virgin Blue later this year.

Daily Pampering: V Australia Business Class service to Sydney

Seats 5H and 5K are the best two seats in V Australia‘s fleet. Nestled in the back right corner of business class, these two lie flat seats are separated from the rest of the cabin by a series of curtains, creating a minature, private room in which one can cross the Pacific Ocean. Combined with V Australia’s top quality service and inflight product, its a 14 hour journey that will breeze by in a flash.

From Los Angeles, you’ll start the journey near midnight local time, resting up in the V Australia lounge above Terminal 3 before making the quick transition to the 777-300 bound for Sydney. After a few Hendricks and Tonics in the in flight bar, a wide variety of dinner options will be served, capped off with a glass of port and one of the hundreds of shows available on the inflight entertainment system.

Once you’re ready for bed you can change into your free pajamas and sandals in the lav while flight attendants turn down your bed, leaving a sheet, duvet and chocolate. Then, after you fill out your breakfast card it’s an easy 9 hour sleep until you gently awake 3 hours outside of Australia to find a flight attendant handing you a strawberry smoothie.

Before you know it you’re on the ground in Sydney, salt and pepper shakers, sandals and pajamas stuffed in your carry on as you prepare to disembark into the southern hemisphere. After a flight like that, what else is there to look forward to?

Get your daily dose of Pampering right here or at 4PM every weekday at Gadling.