Web designs of the world’s biggest airlines

Alex Bigman

It’s that time of year again: a season for giving, buying (let’s be real), eggnog-lubricated family bonding, and air travel.

While each of these elements can be a source of stress as well as joy, we generally associate air travel exclusively with the former. No doubt this has to do with things like endless security lines, hours long confinement in a bone-dry aluminum tube, and lost luggage. But in fact, your airline experience, whether positive or negative, begins long before that, in your interaction with the airline’s web design.

Since the 2008 recession brought the industry to a point of financial crisis, many airlines have made serious efforts to rebrand and regain customer loyalty. 5 years later, we thought we would take this opportunity to evaluate the web designs of 10 airline giants and see what the world’s holiday flyers are going through this year.

Some are actually quite nice. Others could use a major facelift. Here they are, starting with the best and ending with the worst:

1. British Airways

This airline ranks 10th in terms of destinations offered (191) and passenger kilometers flown (126,436 million in 2012).

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The landing page presents a large, beautiful image carousel while keeping the flight search area easy to find. The calendar widget and subsequent icons are all uncommonly aesthetically pleasing, and from there on out the booking pages are nothing flashy, but far from offensive. Overall, the best airline web design from start to finish.

2. American Airlines

This airline is definitely one of the American giants (107.8 million passengers carried in 2012, a fleet size of 873 and 277 destinations on offer). However, they found themselves having a bit of an image crisis a few years back and decided to rebrand. This is what they look like now.

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Landing page definitely gets a gold star (or perhaps a wing pin. Remember those?): large image carousel, simple as can be, elegant choice of typefaces. The booking pages are basically fine, minus the fact that they introduce a seriously bold, seriously garish color scheme.

We’re sure this is a result of meticulous UX research, but still… yikes. Fortunately, once you’re past that, things settle down again and the rest of the process is as easy as it is attractive.

3. Turkish Airlines

While one of the smaller airlines by many measurements, Turkish Airlines offers the 4th greatest number of destinations (243) and services more countries than any other airline.

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OK — so devoting 75% of your landing page to ad space is a questionable start. Once you manage to return your focus to the task at hand, though, you find things delightfully simple. Turkish Airlines presents itself as the “global” airline, and as such you begin by choosing your region.

Once that is done, you find yourself on a more conventional airline website, which is spruced up by cheery colors and an elegant, traditional background pattern. Nice icons and smooth sailing from there on out.

4. Lufthansa

Lufthansa is by most measures the largest European airline, with 149,780 million passenger kilometers flown in 2012 (a pretty major increase from 122,991 million in 2009) and a fleet for 401 aircrafts.

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The landing page is nice, if a little more cluttered than it needs to be. From there, though, it’s German design all the way: no frills whatsoever; just simple functionality, made palatable by a mustard/navy color scheme that looks beautiful wherever it appears.

5. Ryanair

This Europe-only economy airline is relatively small by most counts, but they actually clock in with the 7th greatest ridership (79.3 million passengers carried in 2012, up from 66.5 million in 2009) — no doubt a result of their affordable fares.

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Ryanair is a discount airline and, based on its landing page, it certainly looks like one: template-y, with clunky typefaces and an image carousel loaded with some rather unattractive content. Beyond that, however, we were actually pleasantly surprised. The booking pages are nicely simplified, shifting a lot of the info-load onto bold, decently designed icons. For the price, we’ll definitely take it.

6. Delta

Delta is the world’s largest airline in terms of passengers carried (164.6 million in 2012) and fleet size (a whopping 1,280 aircrafts).

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A pretty so-so web design, verging on unpleasant in places. The landing page merges functionality and ad space pretty seamlessly, but the color palette is a little too dark and stormy for an airline, if you ask us. The booking pages are slightly overcrowded, grid-locked and could maybe use some artistic touches or quirky icons to warm it up, rather than the cheesy stock images that they currently seem to prefer.

7. Emirates

Emirates is the 5th largest airline in terms of passenger kilometers flown (160,46 million in 2012 — an enormous increase from 101,762 million just three years earlier).

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The first issue is obvious: template-y, overcrowded landing page. Not great; not terrible; we like the bold tones. As soon as you progress to booking, though, the color scheme is completely abandoned. What happened to the red? From there on out there is little to offend, but even less to be admired.

8. Air Canada

Servicing our neighbor to the north, Air Canada has the 9th largest fleet — 355 planes.

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This is where it starts to get rough. Full of washed-out colors and ugly type, this landing page looks like it predates even the web 2.0 days. The subsequent pages are no easier on the eyes, but you can see that some effort was made — albeit maybe 12 years ago.

9. China Eastern

China Air, China Southern and China Eastern are all large airlines, with China Eastern being the biggest in terms of destinations offered (211).

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*Slow clap* We have to hand it to China Eastern: they really fooled us with that landing page. Thoroughly decent, it has a nice (if kind of weirdly futuristic) background image and overlays the flight finding area with an elegant tinted window.

Choose your regional site, though, and prepare to have the rug pulled out from under you. The regional site for the U.S. is a total laugh, ornamented with a ridiculous assemblage of stock landmark images. We actually kind of enjoy it, and the UX from there on out isn’t terrible. Maybe kitsch has its place in airline web design after all.

10. United

United is the largest airline in the world in terms of passenger kilometers flown (330,696 million in 2012) and destinations offered (373).

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United may be one of the biggest in the industry, but graphic design clearly is not one of their priorities. Every page demonstrates a more or less equal disregard for the visitor. If you squint your way through, you might actually manage to input the requested information and find your way to check-out. But no promises.

Which airline web designs do you feel are particularly good or bad? (Including the ones not mentioned on this list).

The author

Alex Bigman
Alex Bigman

Alex contributes from New York City on topics ranging from branding and typography to the history of design.

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