Over the years, my work as a journalist takes me to various destinations in India and abroad.
Hence, I enjoy this privilege- if one may call it so- of travelling on top airlines in India, including those operating from foreign countries.
Though I wish India had more airlines, especially Full Service Careers or FSCs- this is not the case yet.
India is home to just about six airlines, of which four are Low Cost Carriers or LCCs.
Possibly because air travel in India has yet to come of age and travellers prefer the economy over time. I will explain the differences between FSCs and LLCs later in this article.
Despite, here is my selection of top 10 airlines, including those registered in this country and foreign ones operating to destinations across India.
Hope you will find this list useful the next time you wish to travel in a hurry, for work, holidays or any other purpose.
List of Top 10 Best Airlines in India
Here is my selection of the top 10 operational airlines in India. Having flown on these airlines on several occasions, I would say that each one of them deserves a mention.
1. Air India
Air India remains my favourite airline in India for several reasons. Though Air India continues to encounter rough weather with alarming alacrity, they are my airline of choice to fly domestically or abroad.
With a fleet of 125 modern aircraft, Air India flies to some 54 domestic and 40 foreign destinations.
Air India is an FSC and has fairly impressive On-Time Performance, meaning flights departing and arriving on schedule.
As India’s flag carrier, Air India continues to serve the large expatriate Indian community abroad.
They offer services including free carriage of mortal remains of Indian citizens from financially weaker sections of the expatriate community.
Air India holds the record for conducting the world’s single largest aerial evacuation of civilians following the 1990 invasion of Kuwait by neighbouring Iraq.
The airline evacuated over 110,000 Indian civilians from Amman, Jordan back to India in a span of only 54 days.
The airline operates Air India Express, a subsidiary that functions as its Low Cost Carrier. Air India Express primarily provides economically priced air tickets to expatriate Indians living in the six Arabian Gulf countries.
Flying Returns is Air India’s frequent flyer program. It allows you to earn Flying Returns miles on every domestic and international flight with Air India and members of Star Alliance.
These points can be redeemed for a wide range of freebies. Membership to Flying Returns is free.
Air India is a member of the global Star Alliance network of airlines.
Additionally, they have code-share agreements with several foreign carriers to provide seamless transfers when you travel to countries where Air India does not operate.
Its frequent flyer program miles can also be used with Star Alliance partners.
If you wish to experience world-class in-flight service, fly with Vistara airlines.
Vistara is the brand name for Tata Sons- Singapore International Airlines (TATA-SIA) Airlines.
Vistara has a fleet of 22 Airbus A-320 aircraft with an average age of only two-and-half years.
The airline currently operates 800 flights to 24 destinations in India. Vistara will have over 70 aircraft, including latest ones from Boeing by the year 2020.
After fleet expansion, Vistara will most likely start operating to destinations abroad.
News reports indicate Vistara is eyeing expansion into markets in the Middle East where millions of expatriate Indians work and reside.
You have the option to fly on Business and Economy classes on Vistara.
Their in-flight service meets and exceeds those of several foreign carriers. Vistara has amazing cabin crew that make you feel comfortable during a flight.
In-flight meals served by Vistara are from TajSATS, a Joint Venture between India’s Taj Group of Hotels and Singapore’s SATS.
Club Vistara is the airline’s frequent program. Membership is free and gets you various benefits including lounge access at select airports, higher baggage allowance and priority boarding, among others.
Vistara has interlining agreements to provide through check-in and Customs clearance at destination with over 25 foreign airlines and more are being added.
Further, Vistara offers a unique facility called ‘Travel Certificate.’
Passengers can get an official certificate from Vistara that mentions their name, date and time of travel, flight number, route and other details. The airline charges Rs.300 per passenger for a Travel Certificate.
3. Air Asia India
My first experience to Air Asia was in 2006, long before the airline began its Indian subsidiary.
And it was an amazing one, considering the low fare I had paid for a – Phnom Penh flight.
Their seats were comfortable while food and drinks- which you need to buy- were excellent value for money.
Air Asia India continues its tradition of offering low-cost flights on domestic routes in India and destinations in the Far East.
In India, this Low-Cost Carrier is a JV between Tata Sons who holds 51 per cent stake while Air Asia Berhad, Malaysia controls the remaining 49 per cent.
Air Asia operates to 22 destinations in India with a fleet of 20 aircraft. The airline plans to expand operations.
However, it is a Low-Cost Carriers and hence, it looks for airports where operational charges are lower.
I find Air Asia as the top airline for one major reason: They have extremely affordable airfares for flights between India and destinations in the Far East.
The flipside however being, you may require transit visa at some foreign airports. However, if your transit is short, most countries waive the visa requirement.
Low-Cost Carrier (LCC) SpiceJet ranks as the second largest airline in India.
It holds nearly 14 per cent share of the Indian passenger market. The airline currently operates to 47 destinations in India and seven cities abroad. SpiceJet operates over 312 flights daily.
By end of March 2019, SpiceJet had a fleet of 76 aircraft with another 250 on order from Boeing and other manufacturers. The airline will boost its domestic and international operations in the coming years.
Since this is a no-frills airline, there is barely anything I can comment about their in-flight services or other parameters that are relevant to passengers.
However, they come up with occasional promotions that offer very low airfares to high demand destinations.
IndiGo holds a formidable 46.9 per cent share of the overall domestic passenger market (June 2018).
The reason is simple: they have very competitive airfares and operate to nearly 70 destinations with a fleet of 222 aircraft.
The airline already has more than 350 new aircraft on order. In 2017, IndiGo won the accolade as the seventh largest carrier in Asia.
This is also a no-frills carrier and hence, there is nothing to comment about its in-flight service. However, IndiGo has excellent on-time performance.
The airline has an excellent presence abroad too: It operates to 17 countries. These include destinations in the Middle East and the Far East.
Additionally, IndiGo has a codeshare agreement with Turkish Airlines for carrying Europe bound and Transatlantic passengers.
Also Read: Top 12 International Airports in India
GoAir is yet another Low-Cost Carrier in India. Currently, it operates 230 daily flights to 24 domestic and four international destinations.
The airline has a fleet of 47 new Airbus aircraft- part of an order of 144 bought by GoAir.
The airline provides very economical air tickets through its websites. The best way to get the cheapest deals on GoAir is by booking a seat well in advance, as I found.
This is also a no-frills airline. However, they do have some excellent paid services you can pre-book while buying your ticket online.
7. SriLankan Airlines
If you are wondering why I mention SriLankan Airlines in this list, here is a solid reason. SriLankan Airlines operates to as many as 14 destinations in India.
In fact, flights to India are the mainstay for this wonderful airline from the Island of Serendipity, as Sri Lanka is famous.
I have flown SriLankan Airlines on several occasions to destinations abroad. If you are flying to destinations in the Middle East, this is an airline of choice.
Due to the visa-on-arrival facility, Indians arriving in Sri Lanka can stay overnight in that country and do some sightseeing or shopping.
Usually, SriLankan provides Stopover Paid by Carrier (STPC) benefits to passengers from India.
This means, if your connecting flight by SriLankan Airlines involves transit at Bandaranaike International Airport near Colombo for more than eight hours, you get free hotel stay and meals.
8. Qatar Airways
Discounts for students and senior citizens as well as excellent service from the moment you buy an air ticket is just some of the few things to expect from Qatar Airways.
This airline operates to 14 destinations in India. If you are travelling anywhere in the world, this is the best airline to fly with,
Few would know but Qatar Airways ranks among the ‘Five Star’ airlines of the world. There are only a handful of air carriers who have this fantastic accolade.
The airline has operations to almost every continent in the world. Hence, you can be assured of a Qatar Airways flight, regardless of your destination.
They have a fabulous transatlantic and European network which makes travel from India very convenient.
The onboard Duty-Free on Qatar Airways flights is something not to be missed. Their selection of Duty-Free items available during the flight is very wide.
You can also buy some unique and rare objects during the flight for your collection or as a gift.
Qatar Airways has a very liberal Frequent Flyer Program- QMiles. Miles or points you earn for flying on Qatar Airways can be used on flights of Oneworld Alliance too.
9. Thai International (Thai Airways)
Smooth as Silk, shouts ads of Thai International or Thai Airways as it is known. And yes, this is the top airline from Far East I have ever flown.
Thai Airways has an amazing worldwide network that few carriers worldwide can match.
Having flown with Thai International on countless occasions, I can confidently testify, the experience is as ‘smooth as silk.’
Over the years, I never found a single opportunity to complain about anything with Thai Airways.
Their customer service on ground is impeccable. On board, their cabin crew takes extra care to see you are comfortable.
In-flight service is superb on board any Thai International flight. To an extent, it becomes an addiction.
10. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij may sound strange. But these words in Dutch stand for KLM, one of the topmost foreign airlines that operates to India.
This airline from the Netherlands has a special place in my heart. I have flown with them to various destinations in Europe, North America and South America.
Personal choices apart, KLM is an amazing airline for several reasons. They offer some of the best airfares from India to European and transatlantic destinations.
You can enjoy the best in-flight entertainment including latest movies during the flight. Their friendly cabin crew is alert and quick to attend to your needs.
Further, KLM’s ground staff at Schiphol International Airport outside Amsterdam is worth praise.
They exert extra efforts to ensure you get a seat on board a flight even if you have not confirmed one earlier. They guide you through Customs and immigration at Schiphol if necessary.
Full Service Carrier v/s Low Cost Carrier
Before wrapping up, I will explain the differences between a Full Service Carrier and Low Cost Carrier.
- Aircraft of Full Service Carriers (FSCs) are divided into three cabins: Economy, Business and First Class. Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) have only one cabin- Economy Class.
- Airfares of FSCs are considerably higher- sometimes double- than those of LCCs.
- FSCs will serve all meals as well as free alcoholic drinks on international routes. On LCCs, there are no free meals or drinks: you need to pay for them either while booking a flight or on board.
- FSCs have higher free baggage allowance. You can check in a bag or two and carry one to the cabin. LCCs allow only one check-in baggage and a handbag up to a maximum of 20kg. This is to lower fuel consumption during flight, especially take-off and landing.
- If you love entertainment, fly with FSCs. Because LCCs do not have any in-flight entertainment for passengers.
- In foreign countries, LCCs operate to alternate airports that can be located far away from your destination. However, they usually provide ground transport free or for a small charge.
Airline Alliances in the World
There are three major alliances of airlines in the world. These alliances make your travel seamless by providing easy connectivity through interlining and code-share flights.
These are groupings of airlines from various parts of the world that function as a team.
There are several other differences between an FSC and LCC. However, these depend upon country and airline.
Next time you wish to fly to a foreign destination or within India, check websites of these amazing and top 10 airlines.
You might come across some special offers. Excellent service and competitive rates, on-time performance and number of destinations served to go into the making of a great airline.
Each of these airlines I mention has unique selling points. Hence, they all merit praise. I hope you will find this list both interesting and useful.