We all know the four major U.S. airlines — American, Delta, Southwest, and United. However, when traveling outside of the United States, we don’t always have those choices. The airlines we do have to choose from may be unfamiliar and may be worrisome from either a customer service or a safety standpoint. Today we explore several international options that should make any U.S. traveler feel comfortable.
First up: An airline with free booze.
1. Air Canada
Main bases of operation: Vancouver (YVR), Calgary (YYC), Montreal (YUL), Toronto (YYZ)
Not only does Air Canada have great coverage of Canada itself, it offers a surprising number of international destinations. Air Canada has four major hubs, with the biggest operation based in Toronto’s Pearson International Airport (YYZ). From there you can get direct flights to cities that may not be well served by U.S. carriers, such as Warsaw, Prague, Budapest and Dubai. Even on transatlantic routes that are served by U.S. carriers, Air Canada uses modern aircraft such as the Boeing 787. Normally, these routes are reserved for aging aircraft.
Air Canada has fantastic in-fight service. Flight attendants are very friendly and attentive and they have a great selection of in-flight entertainment. Passengers will be pleased to learn that on international flights alcohol (including liquor) is free, even in economy. If you are traveling from the United States through Toronto, make sure you give yourself a bit of extra time. The Air Canada terminal is very modern and easy to navigate, but you will have to go through Canadian immigration.
Next is an option across the pond.
2. Virgin Atlantic
Main bases of operation: London-Gatwick (LGW), London-Heathrow (LHR), Manchester (MAN)
Virgin Atlantic specializes in flights from London to various U.S. cities. While it is easy to find a U.S. carrier that operates those routes, Virgin Atlantic’s connecting flights out of the London area provide options U.S. carriers do not have, especially destinations in Africa, including Lagos, Nigeria and Johannesburg, South Africa.
Much like Air Canada, it’s the small things that make an airline great to fly. Virgin Airlines is very conscientious toward its passengers. It may be surprising to know this about Virgin Atlantic, considering it’s British based, but the in-flight meals tend to be better than other international carriers.
Next is an airline operating out of an important international hub.
3. Cathay Pacific
Main base of operation: Hong Kong (HKG)
For many years, Cathay Pacific has continuously been among the top-ranked airlines in the world. With a focus on long-haul travel, Cathay Pacific airplanes are designed for the comfort of passengers. From its primary hub in Hong Kong, you can get connecting flights to many major cities in the eastern hemisphere, including multiple destinations in Australia, Philippines, China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Cambodia, and Vietnam. They even have routes to more exotic locations, such as Colombo, Sri Lanka. Cathay Pacific even has a short-haul subsidiary called Dragon Air that provides even more routes to choose from.
The staff at Cathay Pacific are extremely attentive and detail oriented. They are very friendly and will go out of their way to fulfill requests. I can honestly say I have never felt more comfortable. I would go as far as to rate my personal experience with Cathay Pacific as better than first-class service on U.S. airlines.
Try a well-connected, low cost airline in Asia.
Main base of operation: Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL)
AirAsia is Southeast Asia’s largest low-cost airline. Its main base of operation is out of Kuala Lumpur, but AirAsia does not conform to the typical hub and spoke model. They have operations out of other major Asian cities as well, including Manila, Philippines; Jakarta, Indonesia; and even New Delhi, India.
Don’t expect a lot of luxuries. While not uncomfortable or lacking in modern touches, you won’t leave feeling pampered. It is, after all, a “low-cost carrier.” Even the main AirAsia terminal in Kuala Lumpur feels more like a glorified warehouse than an international airport. But, AirAsia is cheap, efficient, and serves many southeast Asian cities that are otherwise difficult to get to. And for a low-cost airline, it isn’t all that uncomfortable. In fact, Skytrax has awarded AirAsia with the “World’s Best Low-Cost Airline” for 7 years in a row.
Next: An airline with too many destinations to list.
5. British Airways
Main bases of operation: London-Gatwick (LGW), London-Heathrow (LHR)
Probably one of the most well-connected airlines in Europe, British Airways offers direct flights to pretty much every county in Europe, a number of African countries, and most of the Middle East. Even cities that you may not think of as major European destinations are served, including Toulouse, France; Stuttgart, Germany; Innsbruck, Austria; Mykonos, Greece; and Catania, Italy.
British Airways can often be found getting decent to high marks for service by passengers. Although the Daily Mail recently reported British Airways as having a delays problem, that may have more to due with the overcrowding of London-Heathrow. In terms of safety, British Airways has had only one fatal accident, a midair collision in 1976.
Any other international airlines you think are worthwhile to consider? Leave a comment.