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By Ed Perkins, SmarterTravel.com | July 21, 2015
On many sites much like ours and SmarterTravel.com, you can count on finding many “best airline” stories. Many of these stories, however, look suspiciously like they were based on business and first class accommodations. In today’s travel world, what happens at the front of the plane usually ends up staying at the front of the play – first-class seating is something to fantasize about, but is prohibitively expensive and may not be achievable for everyone.
As for the rest of us, real-world travelers, the coach or economy class airline seating towards the back of the plane ranks from depressing to intolerable. That being said, here are the best economy-class airlines in the world, courtesy of SmarterTravel.com’s Ed Perkins.
#1 Overall Economy Class Airline in North America: JetBlue
Despite recent downgrading, JetBlue’s extra legroom is still tops in the industry. Although it introduced checked bag fees, which are still reasonable compared to the rest of the airline world, their satellite-based wifi is free, with its $9 option powerful enough to stream movies. As for the seats, they’re an inch wider than any other airline.
#1 Best Economy Class Airline for Consumer Service in North America: Southwest
With two checked bags at no cost and a no ticket change penalty, Southwest is an easy choice for #1. Not only will the free checked bag policy save you as much as $100 round trip, it has managed to control the chaos of its unique no-advance-assignement boarding process.
#1 Frequent-Flier Program for Occasional Travelers: Alaska Mileage Plan
Alaska Air earned a spot on our list of best economy class airlines due to their mileage program. With most airlines moving towards a dollar-based earnings and rewards system, Alaska Airlines still gives you one mile for every mile flown. Their partnerships with Air France/KLM, American Airlines, British Airways, Delta, Korean Air and Qantas ensure that your miles will still remain useful even if you aren’t flying Alaska Air.
#1 Best Economy Class Airlines for the “Cool Factor” in North America: Virgin America
By the measurements, JetBlue still rules the seat size. But due to its great survey ratings for its flashy decor, well-trained flight attendants, top inflight technology and general flair, lots of travelers like what Virgin America has to offer.
#1 Low-Fare Economy Class Airline in North America: Allegiant
The top choice for ultra-low fare carrier goes to Allegiant, but not because of its base product, which ranks down in the doldrums with Spirit Air. Allegiant’s “nowhere to somewhere” business model gives travelers access to small communities where they would normally have to fly into a hub and pay more for a connecting flight. So if you’re flying to Honolulu, Las Vegas, Myrtle Beach, Orlando or Phoenix, Allegiant is a good choice for you!
#1 Economy Class Airline for Seniors in North America: Southwest
One of only two multiple #1 ranked airlines in our list of best economy-class airlines, Southwest is the only airline who offers senior fares for travelers 65 and over. Although the fares aren’t as low as Southwest’s normal “Wanna Get Away” fares, the senior fares are far less than remaining “any age” prices.
#1 Airline for Extra Legroom in North America: JetBlue
The other multiple #1 ranked airline in our list of best economy-class airlines, JetBlue has a 1 to 3 inch seat size advantage in economy class over every airline. On other airlines, such as Virgin America, which is the only other airline to rank high in survey results like JetBlue, it costs extra to get extra legroom.
#1 Airline for Economy Intercontinental Flights: Japan Airlines
Japan Airline’s newly designed “Sky Wider” is one of the best economy-class airlines because their coach seats provide the roomiest international economy seats on the market. Opposite of what other international airlines are currently doing, Japan Airlines is sticking to its guns with eight-across seats in its 787’s and nine-across seats in its 777’s. This model allows for remaining seats to be 2 inches wider than their competitors.
Along with roomy seats, the newly designed cabins offer a leading 34-inch pitch, compared to their competitor’s 30 to 32 inch pitch. The airline’s food earns high scores as well as their entertainment systems which feature 10-inch screens and satellite based wi-fi.
#1 Airline for Economy Transatlantic Flights: Turkish Airlines
Like Japan Airlines, Turkish Airlines is also sticking with nine-across seating in its 777’s with their onboard service earning above average marks.
#1 Low-Fare Economy Airline: Norwegian
Norwegian flies 787’s from a handful of U.S. cities as well as L.A. and New York City to London’s Gatwick Airport, as well as new flights starting from Boston, Baltimore and NYC to Guadeloupe and Martinique. Their low fares are usually lower than their bigger competitors and their airplanes are on par as well.
#1 Business Class Airline with Economy Prices: La Compagnie
A nonstop summer round-trip flight from New York to Paris can run you upwards of $1,200 for economy seating. However, two people paying $1,495 each can upgrade to an angle-flat class seat, with business class service on La Compagnie – the French’s niche airline. With their current fares being almost $1,000 less than premium economy fares on Air France or Open Sky, La Compagnie seems like a no-brainer.
#1 Best Economy Class Airline for Short Flights: Embraer
Embraer’s 700/750/900 and 950 series might be something you’ve never heard of before, but the seats are at least as wide as a A320 series and all of them are in a two by two format – meaning no middle seats. Although Embraer isn’t an airline, it makes the list because it’s an aircraft you should look for when searching for short-haul economy flights.
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