I’m a lucky air traveler – I haven’t had a bag get lost in a long time, and I’m nice to the crews. Maybe I give off an “I love flying” vibe that gets me on their nice-guy lists. Maybe I’m just low-maintenance or don’t fly enough. Still, some airlines stand apart, for better or worse. Here is my A through D list of airline opinions.
Your mileage my vary. All these flights have been for pleasure, and all are for economy class.
American Airlines (7 flights) – C-
American Airlines was my benchmark for abject performance in the air until I flew Delta. It needs to stop flying cramped, noisy MD-80s. It needs to get flights going on-time. Its ground staff needs to be less antagonistic when things go wrong – which seems to be often, especially for delayed or cancelled flights.
Air Iceland (2 flights) – A
Air Iceland is IcelandAir’s domestic subsidiary. Domestic flights from Reykjavik fly from Reykjavik Airport, which saves travelers from a fairly long haul to Keflavik International Airport. Check in is efficient, and the cabin staff is very friendly. It’s also fun to fly a turboprop aircraft and enjoy some spectacular scenery.
Air New Zealand (2 flights) – A
I can’t emphasize enough the friendliness of Air New Zealand staff members. Check-in was fast and courteous, and the cabin staff had the Kiwi cheer prevalent throughout New Zealand. I’d love to fly this airline on a long-haul flight. Even on a 20-minute flight from Wellington to Nelson, the crew had a snack and beverage ready. I definitely want to visit New Zealand again, and Air New Zealand’s partnership with US Airways makes it a winner for both mileage and the prospect of a very pleasant trip.
AirTran (1 flight) – B
A revelation. Courteous, upbeat service and a well-cared for plane. I’m not likely to fly AirTran often, though, because of my frequent flier loyalties. In a pinch where I can’t swing maximum miles, though, I’ll happily fly them. Well, now that it’s merging with Southwest, you can forget all that.
Continental (4 flights) – B
Good planes, decent service. Nothing I didn’t already expect. Crew friendliness is a bit inconsistent. For a legacy airline, it’s pretty no-frills. The seats are some of the most comfortable I’ve encountered on a domestic airline.
Delta (4 flights) – D+
Uncomfortable seats, dingy aircraft and surly crews make for a very poor grade. The condition of the aircraft used for Flight 1994 from Phoenix to JFK in June was appalling. Sure, everything worked. But the cabin was littered with crumbs, and there were greasy blacks streaks all over the bulkhead. The seat pitch also seems far smaller than other airlines: Generally, I can fit into a seat without my knees touching the seat in front of me. Not so with Delta.