Thoughts on Airlines

Despite what a tour participant told us once on a trip – that once you’ve flown Air Sudan, you can take just about anything – I think it does actually matter how an airline treats you. Not all of them completely suck; some are better than others. But not a lot. 🙂 Here are my subjective thoughts on those that I have flown.

Update Dec 2014: Lufthansa went on the least favored airline list, see below.

Update Nov 2014: rumor has it that starting next year, the major airlines will start awarding miles for flights to their precious-metal-whatever groupies based on how much you paid for a flight, not how far you flew. So most of us without any kind of special status will start earning fewer miles on our programs, while the people who are already elite will earn more than they used to. The gap widens – I’ll never get to super-duper executive platinum whatever now!

Aerolineas ArgentinasAerolineas Argentinas has displaced BOTH Alitalia and United as Most Hated Airline. These turkeys stranded us in Santiago, Chile in Oct 2014; we had a round-trip flight with them from Santiago to Buenos Aires and return, they cancelled the outbound flight, made us stand in line for over 2 hours to help maybe 10-12 people in line in front of us, eventually gave us a voucher on some Brazilian airline, went and stood in THAT line, to find out their flights were full and everyone was on standby. Walk back over to the Aerolineas counter and everyone had left. We wound up buying very expensive one-way tickets on LAN to get to BA (didn’t really want to give up that portion of the trip). If I didn’t always think I should buy trip insurance, I sure do now, as this f**k-up of an airline refuses to refund the leg despite the fact that they cancelled the flight and couldn’t be bothered getting us to our destination.
Air New ZealandIf I ever have to hear “kia ora” one more time, I may scream. Actually they’re a decent airline. I’d booked them to go to Portugal on what was called a “fifth freedom fare”; we weren’t actually going to New Zealand, but getting off in Heathrow at their refueling stop. Was a pretty good deal. But the trip was postponed, ANZ insisted on a voucher and Expedia wouldn’t fight them over it. Eventually we got to the point where we wanted to use the voucher, but by then ANZ had discontinued the LAX-LHR route. I was bounced between Expedia and ANZ for awhile trying to get a refund (and an Expedia twit actually told me I could still get to Europe via Auckland – I asked him if he had looked at a map lately). Anyway, finally got the refund, and probably I shouldn’t judge any airline on pandemic behavior, but still…
AlaskaI like these guys. I liked the Dove bars they gave us (three of them) going from Anchorage to Kodiak, back to Anchorage, then back to Kodiak (bad weather kept us from landing the first time). Too bad they don’t go more places I want to go.
AlitaliaThey suck. Maybe they suck less now than they did when they still allowed smoking – we had a flight with them to Rome where we were the first row behind the smoking section, and not only would they not try to move us, but the stewardesses (I won’t dignify them with “flight attendant”) would then make sure to stand next to us on their own smoke breaks, flicking ash in our laps. Nope, don’t think I’ll ever fly them again. Happy update 2/15/2022: these turkeys went bankrupt and ceased operations in January 2022, pandemic-related, but I’m fine with it al the same.
AmericanWell, AA is where all my credit card frequent flyer miles used to accumulate, and I liked them for international travel. That assumed, however, that I could use the miles, which as of January 2015, is no longer very easy. Round trips that you could once get for about 60,000 miles + tax are now 80,000 miles plus $750-800. Where’s the deal in that? And if by chance you can manage to use the miles, the flight routing and times are so horrible that you don’t want do it. A big lose any way you look at it. (Some say this is the result of their merger with US Airways and bankruptcy and it will all shake out eventually, but we’ve been waiting over a year and it is getting worse.)

Also, as of January 2015, AA decided to “market” every seat on the airplane. You can take your chances at check-in 24 hrs before the flight (but maybe you can’t sit next to your partner, and you’ll wind up with a center seat or a bathroom seat), otherwise to get a seat assignment you have to pay … and pay. For longer flights this can get ridiculous, up to $150 per seat. What a ripoff! Why isn’t the seat selection just included in the ticket fare? Do you really think you’re fooling us into thinking your fares are lower?

Credit card miles do not help you reach one of those precious metal statuses – but now that the miles are so difficult to use, doesn’t seem to matter. Why have their cards at all if you can’t use the miles? We just ditched most of the Citi AA cards and switched to Capital One. Take that, AA. Domestic, routing through Dallas is fine; don’t care for Chicago. You can request a special meal, but if you don’t confirm it 8 times, you won’t get it. Food on international is usually ok. Best meal we ever had was probably the trip to India where they (gasp) served actual Indian food.
AsianaThis was a code-share flight (with United, Continental, US Airways) from Seoul to Los Angeles. Much better than the pure United flight I had out – I had actual legroom on this flight, and the attendants were very good about telling people to put their seat backs up during meal service. The food was good too – opt for the Asian fare rather than the ersatz American stuff.
AviancaFlew these guys to Colombia in 2021 after a 2020 trip was postponed due to the pandemic. The flights themselves were fine; dealing with customer service not so great (both Expedia and Avianca themselves) to use a voucher, not so fun.
ContinentalHadn’t flown them for ages, but then flew them home from Tampa FL through Houston to Tucson. Nice gate agents, which I don’t think was entirely because I had a refundable ticket – they actually seemed nice and helpful. Go figure.
Croatia AirlinesFlew these guys from Frankfurt to Dubrovnik, and Split to Frankfurt, in 2010. They get a special mention for having free beer and wine (not that we had any – but it looked decent), and they actually knew that we had auto-requested low-fat meals (via our Expedia profiles), and delivered. They win.
IcelandAirFinally had a chance to fly these guys through Reykjavik and take advantage of their “layover for up to 7 nights at no extra cost” deal. We did the layover thing for a few nights returning from Germany and Norway. On the downside, you have to pay for food on the flight, even in economy, and buying food at the Reykjavik airport is pretty horrendous (ok, the whole country is expensive). And the plane wasn’t the most comfortable either. The gate agent in Portland was unforgiving about my small Rick Steves backpack qualifying as a “personal item”, so had to check the suitcase and treat the backpack as the carry-on. Not an issue at any other IcelandAir gate, though.
IberiaBooked via AA as codeshare flights to go to Spain in 2021. Still had to use their website to get seat assignments, but all in all things worked well.
Iran AirOk, not Liza, but I believe Robert flew them back when Americans could go there (late 70’s). Something about a samovar coming down the aisle to serve tea?
LAN *There are a bunch of LANs – LAN Chile, LAN Peru, LAN Argentina … very reliable. Unlike Aerolineas Argentinas.
LufthansaUpdated Dec 2014: Lufthansa used to be our favorite airline for international. But when they negated my seat assignments (made when I booked a trip on Expedia) and informed me I’d have to pay $35 per seat per flight because I wasn’t “Economy Plus”, now they are on the least favored airline list. They want to change their rules to grub more $$ out of customers, fine, but doing it retroactively to customers who no longer have a choice of who to fly is pretty slimy. They claim that they “open” up 1/3 of the airline 23 hrs before departure (meaning, when you can check-in) for seat assignments. Yeah, what will be left by then? Seats near bathrooms/galleys and in the center?
Norwegian Air ShuttleFlew them from Berlin to Oslo in 2018. Budget carrier, short flight, thinking I had to check the bag, but it wasn’t a problem.
PanAmThese idiots croaked already (or was that TWA? same difference), so complaining about our bad flight home from Zurich to JFK is moot.
SouthwestI don’t like the lack of assigned seats, but otherwise these guys are great. The flight attendants keep you on your toes by changing up the briefings and announcements. And they’ll give you peanuts, while most other airlines are allergic (no pun intended) to the concept.
UnitedI hate these guys. After they hosed us on a connecting flight in LA (from Vancouver, going to Tucson), and were so unaccommodating about it, I tell people, the only way I’ll fly United again is if I’m in a casket and my body is being flown home. Yeah, so one friend of mine has some super-duper 1 million mile status and United treats him exceedingly well. That’s their problem – the handful of VIPs get good treatment, and the rest of us, it’s like we’re in steerage on the Titanic.I was forced to fly United recently (Aug 2010) for a business trip to South Korea. The personnel were actually friendly this time, but there was almost no legroom on the flight – and hey I’m only 5’8″…but of course they were exceeedingly happy to try to sell me “economy plus” seating for $190 one way…what a joke. The return flight for me was on Asiana with a United code share – see above.
USAirwaysThey merged with/took over America West in the early 2000s. They’re ok, no complaints. Except that it seems silly to fly from Tucson to Phoenix for anything, by the time you’ve reached cruising altitude you’re on the descent. But that’s not their fault.