So you’re settling in for your long journey, and as soon as you get on the plane you realize that you left your book/tablet/only source of entertainment at home. You sit down in disgust, only to almost break your tailbone because of the seat. And what’s up with airplane food, anyway? Wait, I stole that last one from, like every comedian from the 1980s.
This one will be a little different, because instead of by airline, it’ll be by amenity type. Or hell, I might just change it after publishing – who knows. I’m a rebel!
First of all, let’s talk about airplanes themselves. With oil prices going through the roof in the mid 2000s, and again over the last couple of years, it’s important that airlines get rid of older, gas guzzling planes and replace them with newer, more sleek and energy efficient planes. Until late last year, Delta flew the Douglas DC-9. And those planes are older than me – and dude, I’m like mid 40s! They’ve since retired the DC-9 and replaced them with the Boeing 717, which is another aircraft that’s no longer manufactured. They’re relatively new, but still.
Everyone’s refreshing their fleets; Alaska Airlines has 74 orders for Boeing 737s, and American is finally retiring their MD80s and MD90s, replacing them with the Boeing 737 and Airbus A32X series. United is the first American airline to fly the fancy new Boeing 787, and like US Airways (before they bought out American) has orders for the Airbus A350. But those old planes are still out there; US Airways was still flying the B757 as of this past Summer. And the older planes generally don’t get any love when it comes to upgrades like WiFi or better seats.
Seats. So right now, Recaro (the car seat company) has designed seats for the United and Alaska Airlines fleet. And while they’re lighter and provide power, they’re not really all that comfortable. What do I mean? I mean there’s barely any cushion there, and they’re just not that nice to sit on for hours at a time. Even the First Class Recaro seats feel off; sure they are thicker, but whenever I sit in one, it feels like someone is pushing me out of a wheelbarrow since the seat basically tips you forward.
Other airlines seats are generally similar – but what’s not is pitch. That is, the distance between the same part of a seat and the seat in front/back of it. Many airlines have 31 inches of pitch, but some (like Spirit) have reduced that to 28.
And remember back in the 90s when American Airline’s slogan was, “More room throughout coach!”. Well that went by the wayside. And while airlines are struggling to add in more seats so that they can make more money, some of them (Delta and United mostly) have decided to throw in a bunch of “Economy Plus” type seats. What does that get you? Generally two or three more inches. And don’t expect to get them for free – you can pay a hefty fee just for an extra couple of inches – which will all be negated when the person in front of you decides to recline so much that they’re laying with their head in your lap.
Oh, and after you’ve paid that $79 for the privilege of 2 or 3 extra inches, just know that most of the seats around you have been filled with top-tier fliers that didn’t have to pay a dime to sit in those “premium” seats. Infuriating, isn’t it?
Food. So we’ve come a long way when airlines used to actually serve you food. I think the last time I got a meal on an airline in Coach that I didn’t pay for was around 2007, when Continental slung hot mini pizzas at people from a cart. United took them over, and that was probably the first thing to go.
If you’re lucky enough to be in First Class, then cool. Expect to get at least a little something. One of the better things about the US Airways/American merger is that US Airways is upping their game with meals in the First Class cabin. Used to be a 2.5 hour flight, you got to pick from the snack basket, but now US Airways is matching American and actually giving folks a hot meal. The oatmeal at breakfast is good, my husband adores the tiramisu, but he says to avoid the teriyaki beef (at least he thinks it was beef. He said it was the same going down as it was coming back up later that night).
But the majority of us aren’t in First Class, now are we? Alaska, Delta, and United have fresh fruit & cheese platters, as well as picnic packs that contain all sorts of goodies. And yes, even for you vegan and gluten free hippies, there are choices for you. (Hell, one of my favorite things is the Alaska vegan pack; it’s where I fell in love with sunflower nut butter and other awesome snacks – and yes, I consider myself a hippie as well, so don’t bitch at me if you’re a vegan. As a vegetarian myself, I support you.) All of the majors have something to drink and eat, though rarely will it be more than a snackpack of some sort. But on the minors like Alegiant or Spirit, expect to cough up some dough – even for a glass of water. It’s true; you bought an airline ticket – it just nice that airlines like Delta or US Airways hasn’t decided to charge you for a sip of water. Hell, Ryan Air wanted to figure out how to use paytoilets on board! File that under, “WTF, dude?”
Entertainment and Internet Access. If you’re on a flight with real-time television, that’s pretty cool. Rare, but cool. Most airlines are now figuring that entertainment is something important, just in time for people to have their own devices to watch.
Alaska Airlines is probably the most nimble, because they have DigEPlayers that you can rent (free in First Class). They have long battery life and tons of movies and television. Frontier and jetBlue have live television, which is awesome. American, Delta, and United all have some sort of either at the seat or placed around the cabin television monitors. At the seat is more convenient, but if you’ve ever flown Delta, you’ve seen them reboot their systems on a pretty regular basis. I prefer at the seat units as opposed to overhead units – for one specific reason, and that would be redeyes.
When I started working on a project in North Carolina, I would take Delta redeyes from Portland to Atlanta. Now redeyes are pretty evil as is, especially if you get a flight crew (which is most of them) that likes to turn the heat up so much that everyone goes to sleep. Delta did this on one of my redeyes, but it was so hot that everyone was uncomfortable. Not that the flight attendants cared.
Want to make a bad situation worse? With the heat cranked as high as possible, they decided to play a movie on the overhead screens. What movie? A big, blockbuster flashy superhero movie. So with the cabin dimmed, even if you could sleep, the screens flashed bright all around you, waking you up. It’s like closing your eyes and someone flashing a strobe light in your face for 2+ hours.
Internet access is…spotty at best. At least on Alaska, American, US Airways, United, Virgin America, and Delta, all of which use GoGo Inflight Internet, aka “You’re captive at 36,000 feet and have to deal with dialup speeds. Don’t like it? Too bad!”. The only good thing is when you travel a multitude of airlines, you can use a single pass to pay for access to GoGo on all flights. Oh, with the exception of United; though they are GoGo powered, you can’t use your “All Airline Pass”. Yet another reason I didn’t last long on United.
Southwest and Allegiant both use Row44, which when I used it (when Alaska Airlines was testing out the service) was freaking amazing. It’s satellite based, not ground, so you know it’s perfect for a company that flies tons of flights from the Lower 48 to Alaska and Hawaii. But because Southwest took up all of Row44’s slots for installation, Alaska Airlines settled on GoGo. Bad decision, folks!
Other amenities in the air are not much to be honest. At least once a flight you’ll have “An awesome credit card offer!” yelled at you from the overhead PA at volumes loud enough so that Uncle Jessup with his dead battery hearing aids can still year.
One thing that stands out, however, is Delta’s stance on tobacco products. Smoking is outlawed on every plane in the United States, of course. But only Delta actually prohibits tobacco products including chewing tobacco. This is something every airline should do. Unless, you know, you want to sit next to Uncle Jessup as he spits chewing tobacco in a bottle, in a spare cup, or against the wall of the plane (and yes, I’ve seen it done).
So if you made it this far, good! What are your airline rankings when it comes to on board amenities? Line ‘em up, folks!