We’re travelling more than ever before and leading airlines are coming up with the luxurious goods to ensure passengers’ comfort.

By Richard Holmes

It isn’t much of a stretch to say that right now we’re in a golden age of flying, especially when you’re up at the sharp end. As airlines up the in-flight luxury and innovation in a bid to woo us back to long-haul travel, it’s never been more comfortable to be jetting around the world. And if a little luxe at 35 000 feet is important, then look no further than these innovative carriers shaping the next decade of luxury travel.

Start with Qatar Airways, which dominated at the 2023 Skytrax World Airline Awards. Announced in June during the Paris Air Show, and hosted in the city’s iconic Air and Space Museum, the Awards are now in their 23rd year and are widely hailed as the ‘Oscars’ of the airline industry.

The Awards are entirely independent and impartial, and travellers from across the globe are able to vote for their preferred carriers and products, in what is the world’s largest airline passenger survey. In 2023 more than 20 million votes from 100 countries were tallied.

And when it comes to Business Class travel, Doha-based Qatar Airways certainly swept the board, walking off with nine awards in this hugely competitive niche. It’s a market segment the airline has worked hard to dominate, in both product and service, and this year it won the Awards for World’s Best Business Class and the World’s Best Business Class Seat.

That’s thanks largely to its innovative QSuite product, which boasts Italian leather and satin-rose gold finishes to deliver levels of luxury previously reserved for First Class. But alongside the aesthetics it’s the flexibility that sets the QSuite apart, with innovative seat layouts and adjustable privacy panels allowing up to four suites to be converted into a private space. For time-pressed business travellers looking to justify the cost of a premium cabin, it’s a great offering.

Qatar Airways also partners with celebrated French perfumer Diptyque for its lust-worthy amenity kits. Each QSuite traveller receives a Diptyque branded bag made of vegan ‘leather’, customised for male and female travellers. Inside you’ll find a range of creams and amenities, along with a travel-sized signature Diptyque fragrance.

Not content with those two gongs, Qatar Airways also won awards for the World’s Best Business Class Lounge – for the expansive Al Mourjan lounge at Hamad International Airport – the World’s Best Business Class Lounge Dining, and for Best Airline in the Middle East.

Al Mourjan lounge at Hamad International Airport – the World’s Best Business Class Lounge Dining

While Qatar Airways dominated Business Class, Singapore Airlines has long poured investment into the First Class segment. Alongside the plush First Class Suites aboard its A380 fleet – complete with leatherwork by Poltrona Frau and separate beds for in-flight naps – its First Class cabins are raising the bar for luxury onboard. These semi-private pods feature extra-wide seats, hand-stitched leatherwork and restaurant-style dining, with a menu that can be selected before departure.

Mirroring Qatar Airways’ clean sweep, Singapore Airlines bagged the awards for the World’s Best First Class, the World’s Best First Class Seat, the World’s Best First Class Comfort Amenities and took top position as the Best Airline in Asia. And if that wasn’t enough, they also took the overall prize for World’s Best Airline in 2023. Happily, they serve Johannesburg with direct flights that extend to Cape Town.

Singapore Airlines – World’s Best First Class

Travelling in cosseted comfort at 35 000 feet is undoubtedly a pleasure, but throw children into the experience and suddenly it becomes a lot more stressful. A welcome addition to this year’s categories at the World Airline Awards is recognition for the World’s Most Family Friendly Airline.

Singapore Airlines – World’s Best First Class

The inaugural gong went to Air Canada, which has a multi-pronged approach to making travelling with children as easy as possible. At the airport, you’ll find dedicated check-in lanes for those flying with children younger than six years of age. These groups are also allowed to board first, allowing extra time to stash carry-on and get young ones settled.

They also put extra effort into making the trip memorable for kids, from commemorative luggage tags to in-flight activity books to help keep kids entertained. The airline was also hailed for the standard of service from both ground staff and cabin crew during the travel experience.

There is also fascinating innovation on the go in other classes, whether it’s the rise and rise of Premium Economy – on Emirates, it’s not far off what Business Class resembled a decade ago – or the likes of Air New Zealand looking to elevate the economy experience. They’ve developed a first-ever Sky Nest concept, which won the top prize at this year’s Crystal Cabin Awards.

Air New Zealand SkyNest Concept

While travellers vote for the World Airline Awards, the Crystal Cabin Awards, announced in June, are decided by a jury of industry experts who reward innovation in cabin technology and passenger experience.

The Sky Nest is an in-flight offering never previously offered on commercial aircraft, with a separate console of bunk beds offering up to four hours of stretched-out rest and relaxation. Each Sky Nest pod includes a full-size pillow, sheets and blanket, ear plugs, a separate reading light, a personal device USB outlet, a ventilation outlet and lighting specifically designed to help the body rest. The Sky Nest option will be available from 2024 on Air New Zealand’s ultra-long-haul routes to North America, including Chicago and New York. While it’s not a purely premium product, it’s a testament to the remarkable innovation on the go above the clouds. If you’ve been dreaming of a long-haul trip, there’s never been a better time to fly.

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