Survey firm Skytrax announced the 2016 World Airline Awards earlier today in England. There were few surprises at this year’s event, which was held at the famous Farnborough Airshow. Emirates was named the World’s Best Airline, with the Dubai-based carrier improving from a fifth place finish last year, overtaking 2015 winner (and Gulf rival) Qatar Airways. 

No surprises at the top

For the past decade, Emirates, Qatar and this year’s third and fourth place finishers, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific, have traded the top spot in the annual survey. ANA rounded out this year’s top five, jumping up two places from 2015's rankings. 

Airline ratings are released by different sources throughout the year. The Skytrax awards are considered the gold standard because the results are based on extensive worldwide surveying of airline passengers. No other ranking uses such a wide pool of data.  

In addition to the overall rankings, Skytrax ranks airlines according to their quality in different categories. For example, Emirates also won an award for World’s Best In-Flight Entertainment. The airline performed well in the First, Business and Economy Class Cabin rankings as well. 

Customer-friendly airlines perform better

Emirates President Tim Clark touted the survey-created results as evidence of his airline’s customer friendliness. “We listen carefully to our customers, and then relentlessly challenge ourselves to deliver and exceed expectations. The fact that these awards are based on the direct feedback from passengers is gratifying and wonderful recognition for all of the hard work that’s gone into creating the Emirates experience.”

Norwegian, AirAsia win in low cost carrier categories

Some of the newer categories earned a lot of attention this year. It is hard to compare the full service carriers like Emirates and Cathay with low cost carriers like Norwegian and Southwest. Norwegian was named the World’s Best Long Haul Low Cost Carrier, beating out an ever-expanding field of airlines. The carrier was also named Europe’s Best Low Cost Airline, topping industry heavies like Ryanair and easyJet, both of which have been attempting to improve their service over the past year. 

AirAsia took the prize for World’s Best Low Cost Airline. It is the eighth consecutive year that the Malaysian carrier has taken the top spot in the category.   

VIrgin America dominates in the United States

As usual, airlines from North America lagged behind their peers from Europe, the Middle East and the Asia Pacific. Virgin America was named North America’s Best Airline. In fact, the carrier, which was recently auctioned off to Alaska Airlines, swept the major categories for the continent, winning Best Airline, Best Low Cost Airline and Best Airline Staff for North America. 

President and CEO David Cush might have indirectly made a pitch for Alaska to keep the Virgin brand intact when he spoke about his airline's success: “This distinction is a testament to our approximately 3,000 teammates who are so passionate about their work. Thanks to them, over the past nine years, we’ve been able to revolutionize the industry and create an airline that people actually love flying.” 

In the overall rankings, Virgin America came in 25 place. Delta was 35, Alaska Airlines was 60, United 68 and American 77. Meanwhile, JetBlue (53) beat out rival Southwest (66). 

Delta shows improvement

Delta jumped 10 places compared to last year’s rankings, which was one of the 2016 survey’s biggest improvements. The airline has focused on improving its customer service and its on-time percentage over the past few years. The survey results prove what industry insiders have been thinking: Delta is several years ahead of United and American in terms of development.

In addition to the annual awards, Skytrax has a star rating system that awards airlines between one and five stars based on their overall quality. The firm also performs a survey for airports. The World Airport Awards take place in the springtime each year.