Top 10 worst (flag carrier) airlines in the world

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An airline designated as a national flag carrier is granted a significant amount of cachet within the aviation industry. Although largely symbolic, these airlines are meant to represent the very best of the associated country and carry with them a sense of national pride. Flag carriers are held to the highest standards compared to other airlines, at least in the minds of passengers. Normally, however not always, flag carriers are often government owned, which gives them a stronger financial backing versus purely commercial airlines.

Idealism aside, national carriers can sometimes instead become a national embarrassment to their respective country. Whether through inadequate investment, politics or simply incompetent mismanagement, the following 10 worst airlines need to get their act together.

1. Air Koryo

The national flag carrier of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Air Koryo is an infamous airline which connects the ‘hermit kingdom’ predominantly to destinations in Russia and China. Air Koryo is based out of Pyongyang International Airport (FNJ).

The majority of planes operated by the North Korean state airline could be considered museum worthy and all are theoretically banned from landing in the EU and the USA should the airline ever plan to initiate services there. Overall, the average age of its aircraft is more than 30 years old.

It remains an exceptionally rare airline for one to experience due to the general difficulty for foreigners to be allowed to plan a trip to North Korea. The onboard product is surely hampered by the ancient aircraft, however the service offered by attends is a high point. Perhaps one thing to certainly avoid is the (in)famous mystery burger, whose specific meat content is almost certainly a state secret.

2. Pakistan International Airlines

Pakistan International Airlines (or PIA), is Pakistan’s national flag carrier based in Jinnah International Airport (KHI) in the country’s largest city, Karachi. The airline offers routes across the Middle East and to Asia. As of 2020, PIA was banned from operating in European and North American airspace after it was determined the airline was not capable of ensuring certification of its aircraft in compliance with relevant international standards. Furthermore, it was recently discovered also in 2020 that at least a third of its pilots had licenses that were found to be fake. In these cases, the pilots had paid to have someone else complete the associated examination.

Regarding the passenger experience, PIA offers a dated product across all cabin classes with no sign of improvement in the near future. PIA’s Business Class cannot be compared to even a typical Premium Economy. Onboard and airport customer service remains poor as with the available amenities and facilities.


3. Kuwait Airways

As the national flag carrier for the small middle eastern country of Kuwait, Kuwait Airways typically operates international routes across the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, and the United States, from its main hub at Kuwait International Airport (KWI).

Kuwait Airways fails to reach the exceptionally high standard set by other famed carriers in the Middle East through a product offer that can be best described as rather mundane and mediocre. Although a corporate re-branding alongside the delivery of newer aircraft began in 2016, it remains to be seen what Kuwait Airways will be capable of achieving in order to address reported issues such as passenger comfort onboard, cabin crew service and generally poor ground operations at Kuwait airport.

4. Boliviana de Aviación

As the national flag carrier of Bolivia, Boliviana de Aviación is a relatively new airline with its founding only take place in 2007. The airline has its hub in Cochabamba at Jorge Wilstermann International Airport (CBB); an international airport which has the honour of being the world’s highest in terms of elevation.

Unfortunately, the standards of the airline do not quite reach the same heights as its airport. The cabin products offered by Boliviana de Aviación can be described as tired, dated, and ultimately fail to meet even the humblest of customer expectations. Business class is a far cry from a premium product, with no inflight entertainment, missing modern amenities, and generally uncomfortable seating. Onboard service remains friendly and pleasant, but this cannot compensate for the overall shortcomings of the airline.


5. Aerolíneas Argentinas

The flag carrier of Argentina, Aerolíneas Argentinas, is based out of two hubs in Buenos Aires: Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP) and Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE). The airline offers services to destinations across the Americas and Europe.

While standards remain somewhat acceptable for local domestic routes, the flight product offered by Aerolineas Argentinas for international routes can be described as tired and in need of an update. Despite long flight times, there is no offer of lie-flat seating in Business Class and the associated lounges at the hub airports are sorely lacking. While inflight service regarding meals has improved, it still remains far off where it should be.

6. Czech Airlines

Despite currently having a fleet size comprising a grand total of two aircraft, Czech Airlines is the flag carrier of the Czech Republic. The airline is based out of Václav Havel Airport Prague (PRG) with a very limited number of destinations in Europe.

With a reduced number of aircraft, Czech Airlines has similarly lowered its product and service standards in recent years. To make matters worse, there is often the chance that any flight booked with Czech Airlines, in a bait-and-switch maneuver, is instead operated by the related low-cost carrier Smartwings which offers an even worse passenger experience.


7. Air India

Air India, as the name implies, is the flag carrier airline of India. The airline, which is headquartered at Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) in New Delhi, offers services to destinations across Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, and Australia.

Despite representing the second most populous country on Earth, Air India has mixed standards across its aircraft, with the Business and Economy hard products (i.e. seats, general interior) often being worn-out. This leads to a lacklustre experience onboard, which is made worse when combined with a poor airport services and amenities at Air India’s hubs

8. Kenya Airways

Following the dissolution of East African Airways in 1977, Kenya Airways is currently the national flag carrier for Kenya and operates routes across Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America. It is based out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) located in the Kenyan capital city of Nairobi.

Unfortunately, over recent years, Kenya Airways has experienced a consistent decline in terms of onboard passenger service quality. Areas where improvement is needed include addressing frequent operational delays and difficulties for passengers, in addition to a poor airport experience while at Nairobi. Further, a lack of staff and low airline product quality leads to an inconsistent overall passenger experience.


9. Air Algérie

Representing the North African nation of Algeria, Air Algérie is the associated flag carrier based in Houari Boumediene Airport (ALG) in the capital city of Algiers. The airline operates routes across Africa, the Middle East, Europe, North America, and Asia.

Air Algérie currently fails to perform at an adequate standard with onboard and airport staff service being a key weakness. The airport facilities at Algiers is lacking in terms of appeal and convenience for the airline’s passengers. Furthermore, despite recent improvements in some of the newer aircraft, the cabins still have some way for both the long-haul and short-haul flights.

10. LAM Mozambique Airlines

Linhas Aéreas de Moçambique, or LAM Mozambique Airlines, is the flag carrier of the East African nation of Mozambique. Based out of Maputo International Airport (MPM), LAM services are mostly limited to the general region of southern Africa.

For its airline routes, LAM Mozambique general standards are disappointingly low. While seating across cabins are somewhat acceptable, the onboard staff service is sub-par in in terms of quality and hospitality. Furthermore, the airport experience in the hub airport at Maputo is a clear area where improvement is needed.


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