The world's best passenger plane?

In a world ruled by spin doctors, anything and everything gets a run in the silly season before Christmas, although there is a neverending stream of good-news "stories" emanating from the two main aeroplane makers that are designed ultimately to win the hearts and minds of travellers.

"Business travellers named the Boeing 777 the best aircraft three times during 2012," Boeing announced on December 21. "The most recent announcement was by Business Traveller* magazine, which named the 777 the ‘"best aircraft type" The 777 also was named "best aircraft type" by the readers of Premiere Traveller* magazine and is a five-time gold award recipient of the "best aircraft" award from Executive Travel magazine."

"Receiving these prestigious awards from the people who fly the 777 – business travellers – means a lot to everyone on the 777 program," said Scott Fancher, vice president and general manager of Airplane Development, says in the media spin. "What makes the award even more powerful is to see the airlines that fly the 777 receive awards from all three publications.

"We congratulate Asiana Airlines for being named Best Overall Airline in the World and Singapore Airlines for being named Best Airline for First, Business and Economy Class Service in the World by Business Traveller."

Boeing asserts that the 777 "inspires passenger preference" because the spaciousness of the cabin allows airlines to be "very creative in creating unique experiences". "Though consistent in comfort and appeal, the 777 delivers a new and different experience with every airline."

Of course, Singapore Airlines (SIA) and Asiana are also prolific users of competing Airbus airliner types like the A330, which SIA uses on services to a number of Australian cities in addition to A380 superjumbos and 777-300s.

The reason why SIA gets such strong raps from customers has more to do with service than aircraft type. And Asiana is highly rated because it is one of few, mostly Asian carriers that offer 34 inches (86 cms) per seat row in economy class on long-haul services.

On SIA's 777-200s and 777-300s, depending on the route, you can end up in a seven-abreast cabin in business class or a six-abreast cabin with wider seats. And seat pitch can be as little as 50 inches (127 cms) or as much as 60 inches (152 cms), which is nowhere near as much as new industry leaders like Qatar Airways (78 inches – 198 cms).

I'd guess that the ride quality of a 777 isn't as good as that of an A380 or a Boeing 787 Dreamliner, according to passenger feedback, and has more to do with where you're sitting relative to the engines.

And the primary specification which airlines are giving to aircraft seat-makers is that they must make the aircraft lighter so that they can reduce fuel burn and increase the overall weight dedicated revenue-earning cargo in what is still the most marginal retail consumer business in the world. Lightweight doesn't equal comfortable.

Australians are now among the most prolific air travellers in the world, taking a return trip by air domestically once every nine months on average and overseas about once every three years, so knowledge about airliners based on sheer passenger experience has never been so widespread.

The question is: does the spin directed at you by plane makers actually work in shaping your perceptions on which aircraft is the best? I'd say it's still a very hit-and-miss proposition.

*We've altered the names of the magazines that use the American spelling of ‘traveler' to restore a double ‘l'.

Do you have a favourite plane? What sort of plane did you fly on in your most recent travels and did that experience alter you existing thoughts? What is the plane you'd most like to fly on that you haven't yet experienced? Is there a plane you've never flown on that you would never want to fly on?

The story The world's best passenger plane? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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