(CNN) — It's been a strange year for the aviation industry, with many airlines grounding aircraft for significant chunks of 2020.
But as air travel returns in some regions, AirlineRatings.com has released its annual round-up of the world's best carriers, ready to help fliers decide which airline to choose for their return to the skies. The Australia-based aviation safety and product rating agency compiles its Airline Excellence Awards based on criteria including age of fleet, passenger reviews and product offerings. This year, the team of global editors threw airlines' Covid-19 responses into the mix too. And so for 2021, there's a new entry at number one: Qatar Airways jumped up the rankings to nab the top spot, beating out previous winner Air New Zealand -- which has topped the list six times over the past several years and this year came in at number two. Geoffrey Thomas, editor-in-chief of AirlineRatings.com tells CNN Travel it was Qatar Airways' response to the pandemic that sealed the deal.
"Qatar Airways has always figured highly in our rankings, winning various awards such as Best Business Class but it was the airline's commitment to keeping its route network largely open that attracted the judges' praise -- and votes," says Thomas.
Thomas also points to the airline's repatriation flights, and its commitment to making the pandemic flying experience as safe as possible.
Qatar Airways is AirlineRatings.com's best airline for 2021.
AirlineRatings.com usually announces its top airlines in November, in anticipation of the year ahead. The pandemic forced the aviation safety and product rating agency to switch things up.
"We pushed the 2021 announcement into the 2021 year due to the chaos of Covid and we wanted to see how the industry would handle the pandemic over a longer period of time before making selections," explains Thomas.
Usually, profitability is one of the key factors assessed by judges as they rank the top airlines, but because of the steep financial impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry, finances weren't taken into consideration this year.
"We had to drop that this year because virtually all airlines are losing money," says Thomas.
Last year's winner, Air New Zealand, is number two on this year's list.
Number four on AirlineRatings.com list is Qantas. The Aussie airline was separately ranked the world's safest airline by AirlineRatings earlier this year.
At number five is Dubai-based Emirates.
As well as the top 20 ranking, AirlineRatings.com also gave out additional awards for airline offerings -- including for best first class (Singapore Airlines), best cabin crew (Virgin Australia) and best airport lounges (Qantas).
Meanwhile, budget carrier EasyJet won the best low-cost airline award for Europe, while Jetstar won in Asia/Pacific and Southwest won in the Americas.
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