2020 year saw overseas travel decimated by the pandemic and once great airlines shrink to shades of their former selves.
However, one aviation awards body is convinced that air travel is back on the rise.
The Australian-based Airline Ratings has published its list of top twenty Best Airlines in the world for 2021.
Last year it was Air New Zealand which took the top spot for 2020 awards, given pre-pandemic.
However it was Qatar Airlines which took top honours, named the Best Airline in the World.
Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar was grateful for his airline's recognition saying, that it was perseverance that landed them the coveted award.
"Over the past 16 months, we have witnessed some of the darkest days ever seen by the aviation industry," he said.
"Yet, when so many other airlines stopped flying, Qatar Airways continued to operate and stand by our passengers."
The roll out of luxury product was continued - such as the business class Q-suite lie-down beds - while the airline maintained vital international connectivity during the Covid 19 crisis was
"In our objective analysis Qatar Airways came out number one in many of our audit criteria, which is a great performance at this very difficult time," said AirlineRatings.com editor-in-chief Geoffrey Thomas.
Air New Zealand came second overall but it scored first in the Premium Economy and Economy categories, while Singapore Airlines came third in the Best Airlines ranking.
This slip reflects the great contraction suffered by international air travel in New Zealand, from which the carrier is only just emerging from.
In the space of a year, arrivals into New Zealand were cut from 3.89 million to less than a million in 2020.
Judges said the Kiwi national carrier was a regular at the forefront of airline awards "because of its constant innovation and industry leadership."
Singapore Airlines came in third, with a special mention for its luxury product, which won the Best First Class award.
Then the Australian flagship Qantas, came in fourth for "outstanding safety record and fiscal performance".
The top five was rounded out by Emirates, which climbed a place. This followed the general trend of in airlines from the Gulf States and Australasia dominating the awards.
The Australian-based awards body is part of the aviation safety and product rating agency, which audits over 400 airlines.
"To be named in the top twenty, airlines must achieve a seven-star safety rating and demonstrate leadership in innovation for passenger comfort," said Airline Ratings in Perth.
The Airline Ratings awards themselves were also disrupted by last year's travel downturn, delayed by 6 months. Competitor awards Skytrax decided to cancel its 2020 awards.
The awards from the London-based consultancy will be returning in December to take stock of which airlines fortunes have risen or fallen.
AirlineRatings.com's top 20 airlines for 2021
1. Qatar Airways
2. Air New Zealand
3. Singapore Airlines
6. Cathay Pacific
7. Virgin Atlantic
8. United Airlines
9. EVA Air
10. British Airways
14. Japan Air Lines
16. Hawaiian Airlines
17. Alaska Airlines
18. Virgin Australia
19. Delta Air Lines
20. Etihad Airways