If flying at the forward end of the plane (read: first- or business-class) is out of reach, fear not. There are a number of international airlines that offer an elevated travel experience to economy passengers. While none will include lie-flat seats or unlimited pours of Dom Perignon, the economy cabin on these carriers is some of the best you’ll find.
With perks you’d typically only find in first class (think: high-end liquor or reusable amenity kits), here are seven airlines with the most premium economy-class experience.
Japan’s flag carrier flies to 10 U.S. cities coast to coast. On these long-haul flights, Japan Airlines offers some of the widest seats and roomiest pitch (the distance between rows) in across the entire industry. Not only are the economy seats comfortable, but you’ll also get top-notch food and beverage, including items like Japanese Soba noodles, Ume-shu (plum wine) and sake, and on-demand snacks. Expect service from the flight attendants to be as good as it gets in economy, as one might expect from a Japanese airline.
Insider Tip: For the best experience, fly Japan Airlines’ Boeing 787.
Dozens of airlines around the world fly the Boeing 787 (also known as the Dreamliner). While this plane has larger, auto-dimming windows (better for exterior views) and a lower cabin altitude (better for jet lag), there’s one element of the Boeing 787 experience in economy that isn’t talked about as much: Narrower seats.
But Japan Airlines bucks that trend. It’s the only carrier to offer eight-abreast economy seating, in a 2-4-2 configuration (as opposed to a 3-3-3 configuration with other airlines). That means seat width — for your shoulder and hips — is substantially better than any other airline that operates the Boeing 787.
Singapore Airlines flies to six U.S. cities nonstop (including some unique routes, like New York to Frankfurt). On these long-haul flights, expect business-class-like niceties in economy, such as a hot towel service and an amenity kit with a toothbrush, toothpaste, eye shades, and socks. Passengers in all cabins can even order a (premixed) cocktail with their meals, such as a signature Singapore Sling, made with dry gin, DOM Benedictine, Cointreau, cherry brandy, Angosture bitters, Grenadine, lime, and pineapple juice. Singapore also gets top marks for service, even for those seated toward the back of the plane.
EVA flies to six U.S. destinations with nonstop service to Taipei. While economy passengers might not get the business-class-only Salvatore Ferragamo amenity kits and pajamas, they will find a pair of slippers and an eye mask waiting at their seats. Legroom is better than the industry norm, and there’s also a large seatback screen — up to 12 inches wide — that’ll keep passengers entertained. Food and drinks are also a standout, and there are small touches that elevate the economy experience, like metal cutlery instead of plastic.
Qatar’s flag carrier flies nonstop from 12 U.S. destinations to Doha. The airline is known for having one of the best business-class seats in the sky (Qsuites), but its economy offering is also up there with the industry leaders. There are high-end touches in economy, such as a physical menu card detailing the three meal options, a fleece-lined blanket and pillow, and the choice of amenities such as Institut Karite Paris lip balm, socks, and an eye mask. Passengers also get an unlimited supply of snacks and drinks throughout the flight.
Emirates serves 12 cities in the U.S. with nonstop flights to Dubai (and some unique routes, such as New York to Milan). On Emirates, economy seats on the double-decker Airbus A380 measure in at 18-inches wide, one of the widest economy seats around. No, economy passengers can’t access the iconic onboard bar, but there are still plenty of luxurious touches.
You’ll get a reusable amenity kit with socks, a sleep mask, a toothbrush, and a bookmark (readers, rejoice). There are more than 5,000 entertainment channels on the seatback screens. And if you want to truly make the flight special, Emirates passengers in economy can preorder (for a fee) a chocolate cake and a bottle of Moët to ring in a special occasion on board.
Tokyo-based All Nippon Airways flies from eight U.S. cities to Japan. While seat comfort isn’t quite as good as its main competitor, Japan Airlines, it’s still well above the industry norm. You’ll find a spacious seat pitch (the distance between rows) of up to 34 inches. Expect Japanese sake and high-end wines on offer, and main courses like grilled red rockfish teriyaki or simmering Udon noodles. For a small additional charge, economy passengers departing from Japan can even preorder a gourmet meal (such as what one might expect in business class). For the most high-end experience, passengers flying between Tokyo and Honolulu on an Airbus A380 can combine three or four seats to make a single couch seat.
Turkey’s flag carrier flies nonstop from 12 U.S. cities to Istanbul. Not only does Turkish offer one of the top in-flight entertainment systems in the sky, it’s catering is some of the best in the world, too — even in economy. The airline has a strong national identity, and it shines through in its food. Salads come with virgin olive oil and lemon dressing. There are options for hummus or baba ghanoush, cheese pies are served for breakfast, and Turkish cheese and dried apricot mousse are on offer.
Insider Tip: Choose Your Aircraft Wisely
A critical distinction that can significantly alter the flying experience, regardless of airline, is the aircraft type. Here’s a real-world example: Let’s say you’re flying Qatar Airways in economy on a route that has several flights a day, all with different aircraft: The Boeing 787, Boeing 777, and Airbus A350.
While the “soft product” (industry speak for the food and beverage, in-flight service, and amenities) may be similar, your level of physical comfort may be different based on the type of aircraft. Between these three planes — the Boeing 787, Boeing 777, and Airbus A350 — the Airbus A350 has the widest seats. When trying to find the most luxurious economy-class seat in the skies, the aircraft can make all the difference.
Chris is a Los Angeles-based writer with a focus on timely travel trends, points and miles, hot new hotels, and all things that go (he’s a proud AvGeek and transit nerd). Formerly at The Points Guy, his work can now be found at Travel + Leisure, The Washington Post, AFAR, and Lonely Planet, among others. Follow his travels on Instagram and Twitter.