Monday, April 14, 2008

Airline Loyalty

I guess I am an airline snob. That, or I am one of the few "loyal" fliers left in the world. Well, I tried a new (for me) airline this week and I still haven't really decided if I like it or not. More on that experience in a later post. For now, I would just like to ramble on about my most and least favorite airline experiences as I wonder why I am loyal to any particular airline and think about how thankful I am that this week I am not flying American. [American Expects more Cancellations Apr 11]

I usually fly American. At one time they had a hub at my home airport which made it the most likely airline to have a direct flight at a reasonable price. If my company booked my travel, that was also the preferred airline for trips originating from my location. So I began to collect points. When American closed the hub they kept many direct flights - now mostly as regional jets up and down the east coast. And Midway arrived as a hub with frequent flyer partnership with American meaning more points (and more chance of elite status). Then Midway went to their own frequent flyer program and then they went bankrupt.

Now my choice of airlines is more of a comfort thing. I think that American still gives me the best chance of getting a direct flight or the least annoying connections. But mostly it is that I am used to American and American Eagle. I know the flight times for the cities I visit most often. I know which terminals (and in some cases gates) they are at for many airports. I know what types of planes and the best seats and when and where to ask for exit row seating. Even though I do not have elite status at the moment, I have maintained my Club membership (and found it to be worth almost every penny). And I like the adjustable headrests, reasonable sized seats, and legroom that is better than many other airlines.

Delta has been my second choice but mostly for that same comfort reason. I am not as familiar with Delta's schedules of direct flights. And the Atlanta airport isn't known for its ease of use even though I have been lucky with my flights through there. It is also one of the more comfortable places to get delayed (not stuck since getting out to a hotel and back in can be annoying) - if there is such a thing. There are a few features of their frequent flyer program that I like better than American and Delta was the first to implement some of the nicer boarding procedures but many of those have now been adopted by American and other airlines as well. At my home airport, Delta is in the busy terminal and American is in the less busy terminal that also already has the black diamond screening lines. I have also found the ground crew to be quicker (and friendlier) with American than Delta at home - but just the opposite in Boston (one of my most frequently visited cities).

For the most part I end up on regional jets and Delta Connection and American Eagle use similar planes. They have the same leg room (or lack of), same shoulder width of seats (some airlines actually use narrow seats). I generally like regional jets. I try to travel with all carryon baggage and with the smaller planes the rollerboard is gate checked. With the larger planes I have to get on board early enough to make sure there is room in the overhead - less of a problem since the limitations on liquids force people to check their large bottle of shampoo - but harder when you don't have frequent flyer priority boarding.

United and USAirways seem to give me the most problems with overbooking and delays. And I find the seating on Continental very cramped. A few other smaller carriers, specifically ones that advertise avoiding major airports and hubs, sound promising but I haven't tried most of them - and many filed for bankruptcy last week. I don't mind extra fees for extra bags or no free food and drinks or some other things that some of these newer airlines have tried to do to control costs. However, I am a big fan of reserved seating. It is not always easy for me to print a boarding pass from a hotel or client site and until recently it was also hard to do from home (no dsl available before).

Many friends and colleagues have suggested Southwest and the boarding issues were one of my biggest fears of trying them. More recently they changed their procedures [check out Boarding School] and added a "business" class which guarantees first group boarding. I am trying it this trip. I'll let you know how it goes.


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