The longer I’ve been in the award travel hobby, the more I realize I enjoy flying foreign air carriers. For many years, the only airline I’d every flown internationally besides U.S. carriers was British Airways. Okay, there was an Air Canada flight to Montreal as well, but our neighbors to the north hardly count.
I’ve flown a lot more these past three years, and more and more I realize I enjoy flying with new airlines. From the excellent food in China Airlines business class, to the cheerful service in Xiamen economy, to chatting with a flight attendant and hearing her defense of struggling Alitalia, each has been memorable in its own way. To date I’ve flown with 26 different airlines, and each year I hope to hit a few more. Here are those that currently pique my interest the most:
All Nippon Airways
The flag carrier of Japan is renowned as one of the world’s best airlines. With top-notch service and an excellent hard product, my plan is to fly ANA in either business or first as my initial experience. I’ve previously booked a ticket in first class, but had to let it go due to a schedule conflict.
One of these days I’ll get around to flying ANA. And I hope it’s as amazing as I’ve always heard and read! If it’s not, I may have set myself up for major disappointment.
The largest airline in Africa is one that I’ve always found interesting. Ethiopian Airlines has managed to pull of incredible growth over the past couple decades. Their fleet is also new, a they have a good number of 787s and now A350s flying their long-haul routes. The 737MAX crash that grounded Boeing’s newest aircraft worldwide is has tarnished an otherwise excellent safety record. But given the problems with the aircraft, Ethiopian can’t take much of the blame.
Among other things, Ethiopian has tried a few different fifth freedom routes to the U.S. Flying them from Los Angeles to Dublin was an initial idea for me, but that route has been cut. Their long-haul business products leave a bit to be desired in terms of hard product appeal, but I’m hoping it’s at least reasonably comfortable. I’ve considered flying 14,000 miles with them, taking the long route to Tokyo!
Of the five on this list, Korean Airline is the only one I have on the calendar. I’m planning to fly them on an outbound to Seoul as part of a quick trip late this summer. I’ve even elected to fly from the U.S. West Coast via Atlanta, just to enjoy my first time on a Boeing 747-8i! It’s one of the trips I look forward to most in 2020.
If Korean Air is much like Asiana, another South Korean carrier, I’m sure the experience will be fantastic. I’ll definitely find out on the 14+ hour trek!
LOT Polish Airlines
With LOT Polish Airlines starting service to San Francisco later this year, I’m sure I’ll end up flying them sooner rather than later, likely booking an award with them using Aeroplan miles. Poland’s flag carrier is another that has seen great growth the past few years, although this has been hampered by the grounding of the 737MAX. Still, with a fleet of Boeing 787s flying long-haul, they’ve expanded into many new markets.
I got to see one of LOT’s aircraft for the first time ever on a recent transit through LAX. The variety of aircraft serving the Los Angeles hub is one of the reasons I enjoy connecting there.
Thailand’s flag carrier is in trouble. Rather big trouble. With increasing pressure from low cost carriers and the inability to adapt to a changing market, Thailand’s flag carrier may go under later this year. This is one reason it makes my list, as I’d love to fly their first and business class, using one of United’s best sweet spots to do so, if possible.
Thai Airways has a 60-year history, and as a major flag carrier, I really hope that they do not go under. I’m not sure what options the airline has other than a financial bailout and/or significant restructuring, which is what I personally expect to see. But any measures taken might just delay the inevitable. The carrier is getting trounced by Air Asia and other low cost carriers in Southeast Asia.
These are my top five airlines that I’m most interested in flying. What are yours?