One of the biggest hurdles to planning any trip is booking flights. From selecting the best airline to finding a good price and route, there is a lot to consider. We’ve flown back and forth to many of the most popular destinations in Europe countless times, and this is our list of the best international airlines for transatlantic flights.
Things to Consider When Booking Flights to Europe
Booking your flight to Europe can be either exciting or stressful or maybe even both. To find the best deals, there are several things you should consider before booking for your next trip.
1. Peak Season Vs. Low Season Airfare
The time of year you plan to travel is the biggest determinant of how much you will pay. If you travel during peak times of the year, like in the summer, you can expect airfare to be at least double what it costs in the winter. Conversely, traveling to Europe in February or March can save you hundreds to thousands of dollars.
2. Fly from a Major Hub Airport to Save Hundreds
Another one of the most important factors to consider is your nearest hub airport. If you live in a small city that is within a few hours of a major hub airport, you can often save hundreds of dollars or find direct flights by flying out of the hub airport. In my case, I often drive from Pittsburgh to Washington DC for my big international flights, as they are often direct and a fraction of the price.
All of the best airlines to fly to Europe offer cheaper airfare about of major hub airports, and driving a few hours is often worth the sacrifice.
3. Consider Award Flights on Partner Airlines Within an Alliance
The third big thing I recommend considering is whether or not an airline is part of an airline alliance. Each of the three major airlines in the United States is part of a different airline alliance, for example. Airline alliances allow you to earn and redeem frequent flyer miles for award flights around the world. If you’re flying to Europe on Air France, for example, and you have a bunch of Delta SkyMiles saved up, you may be able to book seats on that same flight using only your SkyMiles.
4. International Travel Within Europe Is a Breeze
Finally, just remember that international travel within Europe is much like domestic flights between states in the USA. European countries are similar in size to different American states. Flights within the European Union feel no different than flights from one American state to another, and there is no border control within the EU.
5. Layovers in the United States on Your Way Home Require Customs Clearance
When booking your return flight, I advise trying to schedule all of your layovers to be in Europe. Upon landing in the United States, you need to pass through Customs and Immigration at the first airport you land in. This can make layovers very tight, especially if you have checked bags.
I wrote a comprehensive post about going through Customs on a layover in the United States, and I highly recommend you read it before booking any flights.
Not All Airlines Are Created Equally
Every airline has its strengths and weaknesses, or its pros and cons. You can’t just make an apples-to-apples comparison between airlines without some additional context. For that reason, this list is broken out into two different categories.
The Best Airlines for Comfort and Convenience
1. Delta Airlines
Delta Airlines is the best airline to fly to Europe, and it isn’t even close. Delta’s combination of convenient routes, friendly baggage policies, exceptional service and baggage handling, and excellent comfort put it head and shoulders above the other airlines on this list. With hubs all over the United States and Europe via its partners, Delta offers smooth connections to just about anywhere in Europe.
Delta is part of the SkyTeam Alliance, which is easily the best airline alliance for travelers headed to Europe. As it is partners with the next three airlines on this list, travelers have access to a wide range of flights connecting all European cities. While Delta might not be the best airline for direct flights to Europe as most flights need to pass through one of its American hubs, its service and comfort make the quick layover well worth it.
On top of that, Delta uses advanced baggage tracking software. While there’s always a chance that an airline can lose your bags, that chance is much lower with Delta. They scan your bags at every turn, including when they are loaded and unloaded from the plane, guaranteeing that they can always find your bags.
In fact, if your bags don’t arrive at the baggage claim within 15 minutes of landing, they will even give you thousands of SkyMiles as an apology.
Delta has a false reputation as an expensive airline. Truthfully, it’s pretty normally priced compared to other major airlines in the United States. In my experience, no other airline in the United States comes close to what Delta offers its passengers, whether your ticket is economy class, premium economy, or first class.
2. Air France
Air France is one of the biggest airlines in Europe, and it is a member of the SkyTeam Alliance with Delta. Its major hub is in Paris, which is one of the best-connected airports in all of Europe. We’ve flown with Air France countless times and have always received excellent service, above-average food, and robust onboard entertainment.
To me, what makes Air France such a great option is how well-connected Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG) is to the rest of Europe. There are direct flights from many American cities to Paris on Air France, and from Paris you can get just about anywhere in Europe on a direct flight. CDG isn’t the most navigable airport in the world, but it is definitely manageable.
3. Virgin Atlantic
Virgin Atlantic is one of the two big airlines headquartered in the United Kingdom, and it also is partners with Delta. Virgin Atlantic is usually on the pricier side and is especially known for its premier first class with lie-flat seats. While the brunt of its transatlantic flights connect North America to London, London Heathrow Airport (LHR) is one of the biggest hubs in the world and is a quick flight from any major city in Europe.
I really like flying through London because it helps to break up the trip. Living in the Midwest, I appreciate having a 7-hour flight to London followed by a 2-hour flight to my final destination rather than having the long flight second!
4. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
KLM is the official airline of the Netherlands, and it has surged in prominence over the past couple of years. It is part of the SkyTeam Alliance with the three airlines mentioned above, and its relationship with Air France is especially tight. KLM offers great service, often very affordable airfare, and one of the best connecting airports I’ve ever been in.
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport (AMS) is world-class, and it is one of my favorite places to connect through. Its international terminal is large and fun, filled with fantastic shops and restaurants. On top of that, security is an absolute breeze.
While Amsterdam isn’t one of the biggest cities in Europe, its airport has become one of the most important. From Amsterdam, most European countries can be reached within 3 hours via air travel. International flights in Europe are like flights between states in the USA!
5. British Airways
British Airways is a mixed bag, in my experience. I’ve had some really positive experiences with them, and I’ve also had some truly terrible ones. At one point, they even lost my bags for a full month, and then took 9 months to reimburse me!
With that being said, I think they’ve really cleaned up their act since then. British Airways is one of the only airlines that offers a direct flight to Europe from our home airport in Pittsburgh, and we’ve flown on it many times.
As the largest airline in the United Kingdom, British Airways practically runs an entire terminal at Heathrow Airport. From here, you can connect to other European destinations in a breeze. The only downside is that England is no longer in the European Union, so you will need to clear border security both in England and in your final destination.
6. United Airlines
United Airlines doesn’t get talked about all that much considering how large it is, but it is often a great option for travelers heading to Europe. United Airlines is part of the Star Alliance, which is one of the biggest airline alliances in the world and has the most European members.
With this alliance, United Airlines is partners with Brussels Airlines, Swiss International Airlines, Lufthansa, Turkish Airlines, Austrian Airlines, and more. The list goes on and on! Most European countries’ biggest airlines are a part of this alliance.
With that being said, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Star Alliance is the best. While it may be best for connecting you to small cities around Europe, most of the other airlines on this list fly to the major cities in each of those countries, anyway.
If United Airlines offers you a great price, you should absolutely jump on it. But if you had to pick between United and one of the top-5 airlines on this list, I’d probably go with one of those instead.
7. American Airlines
American Airlines is the largest airline in the United States and it offers a vast selection of flights to Europe. This is largely due to its membership in the OneWorld Alliance, which includes British Airways, Finnair, Iberia, and many airlines from outside of Europe. American Airlines can get you pretty much anywhere in Europe that you want to go with usually just one or two connections.
While its biggest strength is its route network, American Airlines has plenty of deficiencies. Its customer service is notoriously bad, its baggage-handling technology is outdated, and its prices aren’t a great value for what you get. American Airlines offers better service than low-cost airlines, sure, but its airfare often isn’t a great value compared to the other airlines on this list.
If you’re able to find cheap flights on American Airlines, you should grab them. Their service on long-haul flights is much better than their service on shorter flights, in my experience. But if you’re stuck picking between American and Delta or United, I wouldn’t recommend choosing American.
8. Air Canada
Air Canada is a wonderful airline in my experience, but it can be pretty pricey. On top of that, almost all Air Canada flights to Europe will have a layover in Canada. This can add significant flight time to your trip.
If you find a great deal on Air Canada, go for it. It’s a high-quality airline. Since my own home airport doesn’t offer many direct flights to Europe, Air Canada makes a lot of sense for me. However, if your home city does offer a handful of direct flights to Europe, those might be a better option.
The Best Airlines for Affordable Flights to Europe
9. French Bee Airlines
French Bee Airlines is an ultra-low-cost carrier that offers flights from select American cities to select European cities. As the name suggests, this is a French airline that uses Paris Orly Airport (ORY) as its hub. This is the smaller Paris airport that is very popular with budget airlines.
French Bee Airlines has really expanded in recent years, now connecting to airports all throughout the United States. This can be a great option for travelers looking to save some money, as its prices during both low and high season tend to be hundreds below many other major airlines. If you can pack lightly and sacrifice some amenities, it might be hard to refuse a round trip flight on French Bee Airlines.
10. Norse Atlantic Airways
Norse Atlantic Airways is a relatively new airline offering direct flights from select American cities to select cities in Europe. It is a great choice for those in search of budget flights, with airfare from New York to Paris starting at just $200 each way!
As with any budget airline, your fare doesn’t include much more than the right to board. But if you can pack lightly and don’t mind getting a random seat assignment, non-stop flights on budget airlines are one of the best ways to get to Europe!
The biggest downside to Norse Atlantic Airways is how limited its route network is. At any given time, Norse only flies out of 5-10 airports in the USA. If you don’t live near one of these airports, then flying Norse probably isn’t an option.
11. PLAY Airlines
PLAY Airlines is a budget airline based in Iceland. It was formed when WOW Air, another Icelandic budget airline, went bankrupt. PLAY Airlines stands out from other low-cost carriers for its comfortable seats, very friendly service, and free stopovers in Reykjavik Keflavik Airport (KEF).
There are no nonstop flights on PLAY connecting the USA to Europe. Rather, all flights pass through Reykjavik before continuing onward to Europe. Depending on your starting point, Iceland can be very out-of-the-way and add several hours to your flight itinerary.
On the bright side, if you’ve ever wanted to visit Iceland, flying with PLAY could be the best choice. PLAY Airlines wants to encourage tourism to Iceland, and as a general rule they allow you to book an extended stopover of several days in Iceland on the same itinerary. So while Iceland may be a bit out of the way to get to Spain, you can use the stopover to explore either on your way there or your way back.
PLAY is a budget airline, so baggage allowances, in-flight food and entertainment, and other amenities may be limited. However, depending on your dates and final destination, there’s a really good chance your best deal could be with PLAY.
12. ITA Airways
ITA Airways is the biggest airline in Italy, and it very frequently offers great rates to passengers traveling to Italy and beyond from the USA. While not every flight on ITA will be jaw-droppingly cheap, there have been many occasions we’ve found flights to Italy for under $200.
When I go to book flights, I spend hours making sure I find the best deal. On our way home from Egypt in 2023, somehow a one-way flight home on ITA with a layover in Rome was just about $300! While ITA often sells very cheap flights, its quality of service is on par with the other large European airlines. ITA is not a budget airline in any way.
13. Turkish Airlines
Turkish Airlines has steadily grown to become one of the biggest airlines in all of Europe. They offer flights to just about every major city in Europe, and I’d call them one of the top airlines for affordable flights to Europe. Like ITA, Turkish Airlines is a full-service airline that doesn’t cut corners to reduce ticket costs.
If you buy a main cabin ticket with Turkish Airlines, you can expect free checked bags and a carry-on, friendly crew members, and delicious complimentary meals. Seat selection might cost extra, as Turkish Airlines charges different prices for seat selection on flights headed to different countries and regions. Business class passengers can always select any seat free of charge.
Despite being a full-service airline, Turkish Airlines often offers very competitive prices. Couple this with the fact that they are members of the Star Alliance, and you have access to a network of flights heading all over the world on just one round-trip ticket.
14. Aer Lingus
Aer Lingus is the flagship carrier of Ireland. It has become popular due to its very affordable flights from select major US cities to Ireland. While there aren’t many direct flights on Aer Lingus from the USA to other European countries, Ireland is a quick connection away from the rest of Europe.
While a layover in Reykjavik on PLAY Airlines could be out of the way, a quick stopover in Ireland with Aer Lingus tends to be much more convenient. For most American travelers, Ireland is hardly out of the way when flying to major European countries like France, Germany, and Italy.
I’ve seen round-trip flights from New York to Dublin for $350 on Aer Lingus. From Dublin, you can connect all over Europe on either Aer Lingus or one of Europe’s notorious budget airlines. Carriers like Wizz Air, Ryanair, and EasyJet promise absurdly cheap flights connecting passengers throughout Europe.
Icelandair has surged onto the scene in recent years as Iceland’s tourism industry has taken off. This is another full-service airline that has expanded further into the American market. While not as cheap as the other Icelandic airline on this list, Icelandair often offers very affordable flights for passengers traveling between Europe and the USA.
The downside to Icelandair is that most transatlantic flights must connect in Reykjavik. This is fairly out of the way compared to different airlines’ hubs, like London and Paris.
Icelandair offers free checked bags and carry-ons in most fare classes, tends to have very friendly flight attendants, and can often be a good deal for East Coast Americans who live near one of the airports it operates out of in the USA.
Notable Exclusion: Lufthansa
Lufthansa was once regarded as one of the great airlines in Europe. To many, it symbolized class and esteem and was the choice airline of the upper class.
In recent years, that reputation has begun to fade.
Lufthansa still offers good service, but their flight prices are through the roof for most routes. There’s a chance you will find an affordable flight on Lufthansa, but the majority of the time it will result as one of the most expensive carriers to get to Europe. I have seen round-trip flights for over $2,000 on Lufthansa when Delta (another creme-de-la-creme airline) has offered the route for less than $1,000.
If you are flying to Germany, Lufthansa may be a great option because of its direct flights. However, if you’re flying elsewhere, the flight prices might make your jaw drop…and not in a good way.
The more travelers I talk to, the more complaints I hear about Lufthansa. I have plenty of negative stories myself, too. Lufthansa might get its act together in the future, but for now it doesn’t even crack the list of the best transatlantic airlines.