British Tourist

What is the best airline in the UK?

Posted April 2021

The United Kingdom is full of airlines that both operate nationally and internationally to fulfil the destinations of travellers, but which of the many is the best? It’s a good question with a rather simple answer: none of them; but it isn’t always as easy as pinpointing it like that. What airline is the best is specifically down to you, your destination and how you like to fly; put simply, it’s different for everyone. With that being said, experience is a huge factor into what constitutes the best flying experience, so below we’ve concocted a fantastic list of our top five airlines in the UK and why. 

It’s important to remember that these recommendations are purely based on our own experiences and are specific to the flights we have taken in the past, but your experience could be completely different. Enjoy the read!

5. EasyJet

Our most recent flight with EasyJet was from Bristol to Paris.

EasyJet is often regarded as one of the best value airlines in the United Kingdom, specifically for European flights. You’ll struggle to find fares that break the bank with EasyJet, even in peak seasons, but as with all budget airlines this does come at a cost of other things. What is so great about EasyJet is that because, more often than not, you’ll be flying with them to a short-haul destination, the quality of the flight really doesn’t matter too much… but it is still definitely a factor if you’re looking for the perfect trip and don’t mind spending a bit extra. Below, we’ll break down just about everything you can expect from the flight experience, including the airport and baggage requirements too, so you’ll know exactly what you may or may not be compromising on for a cheaper fare.

Baggage Restrictions / Requirements

As standard on an EasyJet flight, you’ll have the option of bringing a “small” cabin bag that fits under the seat in-front of you for free, usually around backpack size. Although you used to be able to bring an overhead cabin bag for free also, this is now reserved solely for Up front or Extra legroom seats and cost extra. You can bring hold baggage for any trip at a cost of around £18-£30 per bag depending on weight.

Flight Experience

Due to being a short-haul flight in most instances, an EasyJet on-board experience is pretty bleak and standard. The one thing we often find when flying EasyJet is the actual interior of the plane feels quite cheap, as well as being relatively uncomfortable and small. With credit to EasyJet though, this is pretty standard of all smaller aircraft, it’s just that EasyJet have a large fleet of Airbus A319-100 and A320-200 that transport most of their passengers, so it’s a more common occurrence with this airline than some others. Similarly, because the flights are short there is rarely any meals or drinks included, as well as in-flight entertainment, so you’ll be spending a little extra if you do want a quick bite or drink on the plane. 

4. Virgin Atlantic

Our most recent flight with Virgin Atlantic was from London to Los Angeles.

Before we jump directly into what has made Virgin Atlantic rank fourth on our list, it’s very important to note that the last few times we have flown transatlantic, we’ve flown with Virgin, and the flights have been very disappointing. One thing that we often find is that Virgin Atlantic are widely available for most “primary” destinations around the world, but specifically those in North America, so you’ll often have the choice of a Virgin flight if you’re looking at a popular destination; but it may not always be the best one. Virgin Atlantic’s fares can be quite expensive when compared to most other airlines, especially in peak seasons, and you’ll often find the fare doesn’t really include much extra (if anything). Arguably one of the most defining reasons to fly with Virgin Atlantic is actually the sister brand of Virgin Holidays, where you can book a whole package with a travel agent to arrange a fantastic holiday abroad. 

Baggage Restrictions / Requirements

Virgin Atlantic actually run three versions of “Economy” seating, Light, Classic and Delight, as well as Premier and Upper Class seating, so the baggage restrictions and allowances are all varied. Unless you’ve chosen the cheapest ticket (Economy Light) you’ll have a free checked bag included in your fare, as well as being able to bring an overhead cabin bag and a small carry-on to fit under the seat in-front of you. The Premier and Upper Class cabins allow for further baggage upgrades, but we won’t talk about that too much for the sake of comparison between airlines. Extra hold baggage increases in price depending on how many extras you have, starting at £45 for one and £140 for a fourth. 

Flight Experience

The flight experience of Virgin Atlantic is where our experience really comes into standing. When we first flew with Virgin many years ago, the experience was by far one of the best we’ve ever had, but since then our flights have been riddled with issues and inconveniences that have dropped the airline in our rankings. With that being said, Virgin Atlantic have recently retired a lot of their older aircraft and are replacing them with newer, more eco-friendly variants, so the experience may be taking a nicer turn soon. There are already some new planes in circulation for the fleet, but we haven’t had the pleasure of flying on one just yet. Shying away from the quality of the plane, the in-flight experience is very pleasant. You’ll always get a complimentary meal and drinks included throughout your flight if you book Economy Classic or higher, as well as snacks and various other treats, but we have found the meal options on Virgin Atlantic to be quite niche and “not-for-everyone”. This may be bias from us, as we’re quite picky eaters, but the meals are very varied in offerings. The in-flight entertainment system on these flights is great though, with new movies and shows constantly being added and the quality of the audio-visuals being relatively solid.

We also wanted to make a special mention to the Virgin Atlantic flight crews, which are still to this day one of the nicest and most compelling crews in the skies. Despite being on various flights with problems, broken things and issues in all crevices, the staff have always been courteous.

3. Emirates

Our most recent flight with Emirates was from London to Dubai.

Emirates is often regarded as one of the most luxurious airlines in the world, and to be honest we’d have to agree. Even in the economy class the flight experience is noticeably nicer than most other airlines, but you do pay the price for this extra nicety. We’ll go into the details of what the experiences are below, but you can often be sure that with Emirates you are getting the best quality flight available on that route, but we’re not so sure it’s the best value for money on that route. Sure, you’re going to be getting the fantastic experiences and comfort listed below, but all-in-all it’s still an economy flight where corners are cut and compromises are made, so is it really worth that extra?

Baggage Restrictions / Requirements

Emirates work out their baggage allowances slightly differently to most airlines in that you can check as many bags as you like up to a certain weight. For a standard economy fare under the “Saver” pricing, you’ll be able to check up to 25kg of baggage (pretty standard weight), with a limit of 7kg on your carry-on baggage (although a small suitcase will be hard to go over this weight anyway). Business or first-class passengers can also take a smaller item or brief case that can fit under the seat in-front of you.

Flight Experience

The in-flight experience of Emirates is often what sets it apart from the other competitors. When you look at things like the in-flight entertainment system, the screens you get, the quality of the audio-visuals and the options available are next to none. Similarly, the food options and variety on Emirates flights are arguably some of the best in the industry, with hefty dietary options taken into account and, due to being an airline from Dubai, all of their meals are Halal. Complimentary drinks are included, although larger alcoholic beverages may cost more, and the quality of all dining options are high above most other airlines. Due to operating one of the largest fleets of huge passenger planes like the Airbus A380-800 or Boeing 777-300ER, you’ll often find the spaces available inside the cabin are nice and roomy, as well as being of very high quality and maintained well. 

Much like Virgin Atlantic, the staff on Emirates aircraft are fantastically accommodating and considerate, with a constant smile and high mood at all times. As a result, the airline has some of the highest satisfaction ratings in the world and it’s hard to not see why. 

2. British Airways

Our most recent flight with British Airways was from London to Venice (Italy).

As the flag carrier for Great Britain, British Airways is a staple for aviation in the United Kingdom, operating the largest fleet from our country around the world. A defining reason as to why British Airways has ranked so highly on our list is a combination of price, routes and quality, with all of the three being fantastic in relation to each other. BA offer routes to all corners of the globe, with a large fleet of both large and small planes to accommodate the variety of routes (something Virgin Atlantic, EasyJet and Emirates don’t really have). The airline is very competitive in pricing to even the cheapest of fares in the UK, but also very competitive on the offerings of in-flight experiences as detailed below.

Baggage Restrictions / Requirements

Due to operating both short-haul and long-haul flights from the UK, British Airways’ baggage allowance varies depending on flight length and fare purchased. For the sake of this, we’re going to look at an economy fare on both long-haul and short-haul. On short-haul flights you will always have a cabin bag and a small extra bag (to fit under the seat) included in your fare, but sometimes you also get a checked bag included too. On a long-haul flight, you’ll always have the checked bag included with the option to purchase more if necessary. Unlike Virgin Atlantic, extra checked bags cost the same with British Airways no matter how many you bring (up to 4) at a £60 charge per bag. 

Flight Experience

The in-flight experience of British Airways really does differ depending on the flight you’re taking. If you’re flying short-haul to somewhere in Europe, you’ll find that the planes are of a similar (if not identical) size to the EasyJet flights but of a slightly higher quality in terms of seating, things to purchase and overall quality. If you’re flying long-haul though, the experience is very pleasant in most instances, with the quality of the planes being very high and the options of things like meals, drinks and in-flight entertainment well up there with the other guys. It’ important to note that British Airways are also replacing a lot of their fleet with newer planes, so that transition will be happening soon, but they are also making their fleet slightly smaller and reducing their routes – so maybe that’ll take a toll on their rankings.

1. Delta Airlines

Our most recent flight with Delta Airlines was from London to New York City.

If you’ve flown with Delta Airlines from the UK to the USA, we’re pretty confident you’ll agree with us that the experience is by far one of the best in the industry. Delta operate the largest fleet of aircraft in the entire world, so you can be sure they’re well maintained and looked after, and it certainly shows. More often than not, you’ll find that a fare booked with Delta Airlines will include at least one way with a Virgin Atlantic plane, and that’s because they’re sister companies, but the Delta experience far outweighs the Virgin Atlantic one. 

Baggage Restrictions / Requirements

The baggage allowances for Delta Airlines match that of Virgin Atlantic and British Airways, with a cabin bag and hold luggage included in most fares. The extra hold baggage charges are slightly cheaper than Virgin Atlantic though at $40, but the weights of the bags are the same. Unlike Virgin, Delta operate economy as one seat (like every other airline) so there’s no confusion there, and the comfort and experience is actually much nicer than most others for the price. 

Flight Experience

Our experiences with Delta Airlines in-flight entertainment, dining and staff have never been anything less than fantastic. As we mentioned earlier, we’re picky eaters, but the Delta offerings always have something to cater to everyone on-board (similar to that of the high-price Emirates flights). You’ll find that the audio-visual quality of the in-flight entertainment is fantastic, with large screens and solid sound, as well as having a great offering of new options and classics. We’d say that the experience on-board is very similar to that of Emirates, but for a much lower cost, and that’s what puts Delta at the top of our list. To round it off, the friendly staff and high-quality planes make the whole experience perfect.