What’s Wrong with U.S. Airlines’ Economy Class?

The annual World Airline Awards conferred by the U.K.’s Skytrax – based on input this year from almost 20 million participating global travelers – have something notably missing from their list of the world’s best economy class.

The list of the Top 20 economy class airlines doesn’t include a single U.S. carrier.

The reasons why are probably obvious to frequent travelers. Unlike many foreign carriers, U.S. airlines in recent years have focused on upgrading their front cabins, often at the expense of their rear cabins. (Note: The SkyTrax rankings only consider regular economy seating, not the premium economy or extra-legroom sections some U.S. carriers have added.)

In contrast, the refitting of U.S. airlines’ economy cabins generally involves installing less-bulky “slim-line” seats (which many readers say are also less comfortable), stuffing in extra seat rows to increase revenue (often at the expense of legroom and seat width), and most recently deploying a “basic economy” pricing model that takes away most of the in-cabin amenities that economy travelers had come to expect as their right (like the right to put a carry-on bag in the overhead bin).

So maybe it should come as no surprise that travelers find more to like in the coach cabins of non-U.S. airlines.

For that matter, European airlines don’t fare very well in the listing either. The Top 20 list of economy classes includes only a single European winner – Lufthansa (pictured above) at number 10 (unless you count Turkish Airlines, since Turkey is in between Europe and Asia; Turkish ranked 11th).

All the other Top 20 winners are airlines from Asia, the Middle East and the Pacific.

“The Award for the world’s “Best Economy Class Airline” is a coveted quality distinction representing passenger satisfaction assessment of the front-line Economy Class product and staff service standards that airlines provide across both the cabin and airport environments,” Skytrax said.

First place in the Economy Class rankings went to Thai Airways, followed by Qatar Airways, Asiana, Garuda Indonesian and Singapore Airlines.

Thai notes on its website that its Economy Class product includes the following:

  • Choice of main meal with beverages, snacks and second meal service offered on international flights; snacks or light meals on domestic flights
  • Audio/Video On Demand available on A380s, 787s, 777-300s, 777-200ERs, A330-300s and 747s; shared cabin screens on other flights; WiFi available for a fee on the A380 and some A330s
  • Seat pitch of 31 to 34 inch with 122 to 133-degree recline
  • Blankets and pillows provided on international flights; eye shades and ear plugs available on request
  • Baggage allowance of no less than 20kg

World’s Best Economy Class Airlines 2017
1. Thai Airways
2. Qatar Airways
3. Asiana Airlines
4. Garuda Indonesia
5. Singapore Airlines
6. Japan Airlines
7. Emirates
8. ANA All Nippon Airways
9. EVA Air
10. Lufthansa
11. Turkish Airlines
12. Hainan Airlines
13. Virgin Australia
14. Saudi Arabian Airlines
15. China Airlines
16. Qantas Airways
17. Bangkok Airways
18. Air New Zealand
19. Oman Air
20. Malaysia Airlines


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