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]

The most over-the-top first class cabins

While most coach flyers would kill for a little extra leg room and a free bag of peanuts, first class passengers are often living the good life with free-flowing drinks and fully-reclining seats. But there are some first class cabins that go beyond simply luxury and begin to cross into the land of excess.

For example, according to a post on Divine Caroline, Singapore Airlines offers its first class passengers Givenchy sleepwear, Ferragamo toiletry kits and personalized turndown service. Jet Airways welcomes passengers into their own private room with a door that shuts for privacy, while on Emirates, they get their very own suite, complete with personal lounge and shower.

On Lufthansa, the VIP service starts before you even board, as a Mercedes Benz chauffeurs you to the plane. Qatar Airways’ first class lounge has a Jacuzzi and full-service spa.

Some airlines turn your seat into a cinema or a four-star restaurant. Qantas Airlines’ first class seats offer a 400-channel entertainment center and an eight-course meal with wine pairings. Seats on Cathay Pacific have built massagers and flight attendants cook each passenger’s breakfast to order.

And here I was just hoping for a good in-flight movie and a few free drinks. . .


JetAirways is FINE

In an airlines story faux pas, in a post this past Sunday, I inadvertently switched airlines putting Jet Airways as stopping service instead of JetAmerica. Rats! Then Zachary, a faithful Gadling reader, after dragging himself up from the floor after his heart attack from wondering if his trip to Barcelona is not happening after all, had enough energy left to pop me a comment telling me of my GRAVE error. Thanks to Zachary’s quick thinking, the post was updated almost perfectly. I left one Jet Airways in the text. Double rats! (It has since been fixed.)

Yesterday was National Get Out of the Dog House Day. In an attempt to get myself out of the doghouse, here’s a PROFUSE apology to Jet Airways and any reader who may have wondered if it was April Fools Day all over again or if life had been ruined once more by an airlines pulling up stakes. And if Gadling had lost its mind. No Gadling didn’t lose its mind. I did. But my mind has been recovered.

So to recap. Jet Airways is FINE. Jet Airways is FINE. Jet America is possibly regrouping and might fly in the future in some capacity at some location. The people who bought tickets on Jet America in hopes of an inexpensive trip out of Toledo– and a few other locations are to get their money refunded. I suggest they take the refund money and try Greyhound. Greyhound is like the post office. Somehow the package gets delivered and tickets are inexpensive to downright cheap. It may take awhile, but you’ll get where you want to go.

Airline passenger swears, throws water, makes threats and hits an elderly man with a fork

In a truth is stranger than fiction tale, picture this: You’re sitting minding your own business on a Jet Airways flight from London to Mumbai, India. The engines are humming. Perhaps, the “fasten your seat belt” light has gone off. Luggage is stored and you’re settled in. All seems normal. But WAIT! The young guy in his mid-twenties who is sitting near you starts verbally abusing you and anyone within earshot. Then he ramps it up a notch and grabs at the breasts of the woman sitting next to him.

After she moves seats to get away, he continues on his rampage going from bad to worse. He stands on his seat for better a vantage point, perhaps.

When the male flight attendant tries to stop him, the passenger (allegedly) throws water in the attendant’s face and continues his verbal rampage.

He also threatens to throw his passport out the window (neat trick on an airplane), rips up his boarding pass, and hurls a fork at an elderly man.

Finally, the passenger is handcuffed and tied to his seat after the pilot asked for something to be done with the guy. Eventually, he falls asleep and wakes up right as rain as if nothing had happened. Regardless of his personality shift, after the plane landed in Mumbai, the police arrested him because of his behaviors. Now they’re trying to figure out what caused the outburst.

According to the article in The Times of India, the man is an engineering student.

For a video of the news story, click here.

Why It’s a Good Time to Fly to Asia

With the present conditions offering little reason for airline execs to break out the expensive cognac to toast to their success, some airlines (at least those who aren’t fearing for their lives) are looking to the future. The likes of Cathay Pacific and Finnair are developing routes to Asia that they hope will become lucrative once the world economy starts playing nice. These airlines are starting early, trying to have their brands in place before the competition. Some are offering added amenities or advertising new, faster routes. Here are some of the players:

1. Finnair claims it has the shortest route between New York and New Delhi, via its hub in Helsinki.
2. Cathay Pacific, already one of the top names in Asia, is trying to compete by adding flights to India via its Hong Kong base.
3. Northwest Airlines is trying to further develop its long running service to Japan.
4. Even American Airlines announced a 12% increase in passengers on its routes to Japan and China.
5. Singapore Airlines launched an all business class service between New York and Singapore.
6. New airlines are also competing for this growing market. India-based Jet Airways is developing a route between San Francisco and Mumbai that has become favorite of business travelers.