Travel & Leisure
updated 9/22/2011 11:20:01 AM ET 2011-09-22T15:20:01

Tired fliers often think about how nice it would be to stretch out across a whole row of economy-class seats and take a nap. But let’s face it: airline seats were simply not designed for napping. That is, until Air New Zealand introduced its "Sky Couch," with flip-up seats created for just that purpose.

Comforts like these are just one reason ANZ was voted the No. 4 World’s Best Airline in our annual World’s Best Awards, where our readers ranked 76 airlines based on cabin comfort, in-flight service, customer service, value, and food.

So which airlines came out on top? International airlines virtually own the top 20 World’s Best Airlines; only two U.S. carriers made the list. Asian and Middle Eastern carriers dominate the top 10, with scores that are remarkably consistent from year to year, such as this year’s No. 3-ranked Etihad Airways, a United Arab Emirates-based carrier.

One thing is clear: the quest by the top-ranked airlines to become even better is raising the stakes. The leading carriers are vying to upgrade seating in every class—so-called thin seats in economy that allow everyone to recline without disturbing neighbors are all the rage among Asian carriers. For example, Korean Air, which ranks No. 9, earned points for its ergo-friendly “slim seats.”

The smartest airlines are also adding faster on-board Wi-Fi as well as charging stations with USB ports at every seat. Even food choices are getting better, with celebrity chefs and sommeliers hired to raise the standards. Chances are Swiss Airlines’ fine wines, cheese, and chocolates—all from Switzerland—had something to do with its No. 18 ranking.

But ultimately, it’s service that makes—or breaks—an airline’s ranking. Great on-the-ground customer service is vital to a high ranking. But even more important—and more highly weighted—is in-flight service. After all, you probably won’t remember a cramped coach seat, but you’ll definitely remember (and possibly complain about) a rude flight attendant.

So check out the World’s Best Airlines, and turn your next flight into an opportunity for a comfortable nap. —Everett Potter

El Al may be known best for its vigilant, cutting-edge security measures. But the airline is also attentive to its in-flight service, scoring the most points in that category. Readers felt the biggest room for improvement was in cabin comfort. —Kate Appleton

Copyright © 2012 Amex


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