American air carriers still suck

This post is definitely directed to my American friends; most Americans don’t travel and we don’t always see how good (or bad) other countries have it.  When it comes to airlines – we have it pretty bad.  As I travel around the world I realize just HOW BAD the American air carriers are.  I’ve recently flown Delta, American, United, Qantas and Virgin America; hands down, the best carrier in the bunch is Virgin.  I originally flew Virgin Atlantic to London from Los Angeles in 1996 for my 2nd overseas trip (first “long” backpacking trip).  I was so thoroughly impressed with Virgin back in 1996 that I promised to fly with them whenever possible.  Think back to the mid-90’s, back then in-flight entertainment consisted of a single movie screen at the front of the plane and only on long haul flights.  My Virgin Atlantic flight from 1996 had movies on demand, TV on demand, games, news and music.  The 12 hour flight felt like about 5 hours.  Most American carriers didn’t bother to improve their service because Virgin wasn’t allowed to compete in America; protectionist laws kept foreign carriers out of the domestic market.  I suppose that Virgin has gotten around this by creating an American division and it shows!  The service was night and day compared to our own companies.

At the check in counter you immediately notice a different “vibe” when you get your boarding pass.  The entire area is colorful (neon lights) with some cool and trendy music, the staff are upbeat and enthusiastic and the process was (especially compared to United, Delta and American) a PLEASANT experience.  The mood quickly crashes as I cleared the knuckleheads at the TSA and then climbed again as I boarded the airplane.  The crew was young and happy – not the frumpy 40-50 year old “burned out” United stewardesses that I’m so used to.  The stewardesses were obviously younger and better looking than the American carriers – a fringe benefit perhaps but that’s not what’s important.  What is important is attitude and service – something severely lacking with the American carriers.  The Virgin crew was attentive, happy and helpful.  What more could you ask for?  Inside the airplane there was a neat color of blue and puple UV lighting, cool space-age music and the seats were roomy and comfortable.  It was more like an “experience” than a flight.

The entire “mood” of Virgin is different than the American carriers.  I laughed out loud when the safety video announcer said, “For the .0001% of you who have never worn a seatbelt, here is how to put it on.”  What a funny way to address the FAA required announcement.  And like my flight in 1996, Virgin still has in-flight entertainment for each seat: games on demand and television.  My recent American Airlines flight from Portland to Los Angeles had no in-flight entertainment.  I would have thought that the Virgin flight would cost more – especially since I was flying an American Airlines dominated route.  I was flying from Los Angeles to Dallas-Fort Worth, the hub of American Airlines.  Surely they should have the lowest price for any flight into our out of DFW.  But no, their flight was $220 and Virgin was only $190.  And, the “excess baggage charge” for American was almost twice as much as Virgin.

I just took a flight from Los Angeles to Perth, Australia on Qantas Airlines and (can you believe it) there was no AC power plug receptacle in the seat.  A 15 hour flight and no power!  I was so disappointed as I had wanted to get some work done on my computer.  EVERY Virgin flight has in-flight power, even for the short haul flights.

Each time I buzzed the crew on the Virgin flight they arrived within a minute and brought whatever was asked.  In a recent overseas flight with United, I was blocked in my seat as there was an elderly man next to me who was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake him.  I buzzed the stewardess and asked for some water as I wanted to take some aspirin.  She told me that I should wait for the dinner service that was coming in 90 minutes.  When I insisted on some water she said that I should get up and get it myself.  When I told her that the man was sleeping and could she just bring some water she said she would return and never did.  I flagged down a male steward and asked for water and he didn’t return either.  On the 10 hour flight water was only brought around one time (aside from the two meals).  The attitude of the United crews was “screw off, I took a pay cut, I just don’t care.”

As I watch the herd of people board our domestic flights, everyone seems to just think that this type of service is normal.  Believe me, it isn’t.  Turkish Airlines coach is almost on par with Delta’s business class.  But, as most Americans don’t travel overseas, we don’t see how bad we have it, don’t complain and just take it in the shorts.  That’s too bad.  I think that if we demanded better service, we would get it.


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