So I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop in the Alaska/Delta frenemies fight, and it has.  An email from Alaska Airlines this morning spells out mileage accrual changes for elites flying on Alaska, and anyone flying on Delta.  Elites on Alaska will be earning even more miles, which is awesome for us!  And then there’s the situation with Delta.

Basically, if you fly Delta on an Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan with a cheap ticket, get ready to start losing miles!  Seriously…  Here’s the chart (click to embiggen)

as-dl-frenemies-mileage

This is getting interesting!

Even more interesting is that Alaska is strengthening their relationship with Skywest.  Not only did Alaska announce two new destinations and three new routes, but those routes are on Skywest using the new Embraer 175 (which is personally my favorite regional jet).

In a situation like this, it seems the the real winners are us flyers.

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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!

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As I start this five part series on my own ranking of the airlines, I have to say that these rankings are all of my own choosing, and have to do solely by my experiences first hand, or because of things I’ve read (from credible sources).

So when you’re ready to go on a trip, be it a once in a lifetime trip or that twice a week slog across the continent, you’re probably not thinking about safety.  As a matter of fact, unless there has been a recent high profile airline crash, chances are that you’re probably not thinking about safety at all.  But safety is, first and foremost, how we can rest assured that our travel is going to get us from point A to point B without any hiccups.

I’m going to break these into the good, the okay, and the “WTF were you thinking?”.  And they are

  • The Good
    • Frontier Airlines
    • Alaska Airlines
    • Southwest Airlines
  • The Okay
    • Southwest Airlines
    • United Airlines
  • The “WTF were you thinking?”
    • American Airlines
    • US Airways
    • Skywest Airlines
    • Delta Airlines

Why did Frontier come out on top?  I haven’t flown them in a few years, but whenever I did, I almost always ended up in the exit row.  And you know that little schpiel that you’re given whenever you sit in the exit row?  Frontier stands heads and tails above the rest, because they didn’t pull the crap that most airlines do, which is, “You’re in the exit row, say yes that you understand your responsibilities. Thank you.”  No, Frontier was freaking serious about what they considered safety.  If you sat in that exit row, you normally got the regular schpiel, but you also got a lesson on how to evacuate the plane.  For instance, did you know that when there are 3 people in the exit row that each has a different job?  The one closest to the door opens the emergency exit (and disposes as needed), climbs out onto the wing, and drops the the ground below.  The person in the middle seat climbs out the window and stands on the wing, just outside the emergency exit.  Finally, the person on the aisle stands up where they are seated.  They are to help direct people to the exit, where the middle-seat person helps them out of the plane, and then sends the pax down to the waiting window-seated person.  The aisle-seated person is technically the last person off the plane.

I bet you didn’t know that, did you?  Unless you’ve flown Frontier.

Beyond that awesome briefing (which should be mandatory on every airline), Frontier mechanics have gotten into trouble for making sure their planes are airworthy.  Who else remembers the Frontier plane that got struck by lightning, and was being inspected between flights at DIA?  And while the pilot pushed to leave, the mechanic didn’t want the plant to take off, for safety reasons.  When he was overruled, he stopped the plane by throwing a chuck (a wooden block that they put under the tires to keep the plane in place) into the engine.  Some see this as illegal or sabotage – but I can see concerned about a potentially unsafe plane taking to the air.  For a young airline (Frontier was still flying 737s back then – they’re now all Airbus), it could have been devastating.

Second, I have Alaska Airlines.  Now if this was just post flight AS261 (the MD80 that went down in the Pacific, killing all on board due to shoddy maintenance), then Alaska may not be this high up on the list.  Thing is, Alaska learned from that, and suddenly proper maintenance and passenger safety became a higher priority.

I’ve actually gotten the whole big “passenger evacuation” schpiel on Alaska a couple of times, but really rare.  The thing is, though, they’ve taken security very serious.  For example, there was an incident that I watched play out, where someone who was seated in the emergency exit row didn’t speak English.  The Flight Attendant actually stopped the plane from taxiing when it was revealed (thus another reason for more than just a cursory  “Yes” at the safety question) and they moved the passenger.  I’ve also watched them move people that they didn’t consider capable of sitting in the exit row.

The “Okay” list includes Southwest and United.  Now there’s nothing really special about either of these airlines, and absolutely nothing sticks out in my mind whenever I’ve flown either.  I know that at one point there was a question as to where Southwest was doing their heavy maintenance (possible outsourcing to Latin America, where the FAA doesn’t certify the mechanics), but I don’t know whatever became of that.  As a matter of fact, I’m going to put out a letter to all the Majors, and ask where B, C, and D maintenance checks are performed (in house, outsourced, etc).

Then comes the “WTF were you thinking?” list.  And this list goes from least to most worrisome in my head, starting with American Airlines.

Now overall, American isn’t really bad, though I’ve had one scary situation.  I flew DFW to LAS for work, and had to spend the 4 hour flight standing.  Why?  Well, I purchased a ticket and was flying on an MD80 in the 2 side exit row.  The man next to me was absolutely ginormous.  Not his fault – I’m not going to be put out because of a large passenger.  But the thing is, he was in the window seat next to me on the 2 side exit row – and the man was so large that A) I couldn’t fit in my seat if we both were seated and B) if that emergency exit had to be opened, he would have absolutely not fit through it.

American handled the situation horribly (more on that in the upcoming customer service post), and the only official word that I had was from a gate agent who said that American couldn’t discriminate against someone just because they were large.  I didn’t care about the man’s size – just that he would have not fit through the emergency exit.  And were there an emergency, I’m not sure exactly what would have happened.

Next comes American’s suitor, US Airways.  Now I can say that there’s still a definitive split here at US Airways, with them and America West.  America West is a more professional, more safety conscious airline – but for all intents and purposes, they don’t exist anymore.  I’ve been on flights (plural) where flight attendants were more interested in standing around talking than checking to see if pax were wearing their seatbelts when the sign comes on.  My last trip on them ended with the lead FA and her “best friend” male FA stood up in the galley, hooting and hollering and just having a fun time – which is fine.  But they never picked up the cabin from a 2.5 hour flight, they never got people to put away tray tables, and it came as a shock to them that we touched down while they were still standing around talking.

Now people don’t understand the big deal about a tray table down during landing – but think of it this way.  Your tray table is out and usually has a metal ring around it (and is comprised of hard plastic), making it rather sturdy.  You land and hit something (not unheard of!) and are forced forward into the seat in front of you.  Think about this – what’s going to give way first – the hard, sturdy tray table, or your squishy organs?  I’ll take being cut in half for $200, Alex.

Then we get to Skywest Airlines.  Now it’s true that they were named one of the 10 most dangerous airlines (though there’s a well deserved refutation of how that came to be).  Thing is, this doesn’t have to do with accidents.  Rather, it has to do with maintenance issues.  Specifically, I was flying Skywest as a regional carrier for United this past Summer, and out of 8 flights, only 3 of them were not delayed by maintenance.  Otherwise every one of the other 5 flights had a maintenance delay of between 15 minutes and 3 hours.  Now it’s just a maintenance delay, right?  Well tell me WTH is going on that a plane needs that much maintenance.  The night of our 3 hour maintenance delay in O’Hare, there were 4 other Skywest operated flights from nearby gates – and every single one of them also had a maintenance delay.  Think about it – five planes at five gates, all with maintenance delays. Exactly what happens to these planes when they’re supposed to be taken care of during routine maintenance?  Or is the airline performing maintenance whenever there’s a flight.  Whatever the case, I had such lack in trust for Skywest that I abandoned flying United altogether – and told them why.

And finally we get to the bottom of the barrel, which in my personal opinion is Delta Airlines.  There are so many damn issues that it’s hard to classify them all.  From pax that get up and walk around during the plane’s taxi (and flight crews not doing anything about it, much less stopping the plane or calling the cockpit), to leaving unqualified people in the exit row.  I boarded a plane to Amsterdam after watching Delta put an elderly couple in a wheelchair in the exit row.  I’ve seen them not even ask people in the exit row if they were okay.  Hell, one of the first picture I ever tweeted was this:

m61

If you can’t make it out, it’s a disabled woman with a cane looking out the emergency exit, which she is seated next to.

But probably the biggest thing was when I watched two passengers get into it.  The person in the middle seat wanted the exit row windowshade opened, while the person at the window wanted it closed.  Everyone knows the most important (and most dangerous) parts of flight are takeoff and touchdown – and that windowshades need to be open.  The middle seat pax contacted a flight attendant to try and force the window seat passenger to open the windowshade, but the flight attendant took the window seat passenger’s side, saying it could be closed if they wanted.

Sorry, but windowshades need to be open at least during takeoff and touchdown.  The only airline that I know that had this as part of their safety briefing was TWA, but when American took them over in 2001, that went away.

So that’s AirSnark’s guide to passenger safety rankings of the airlines – all my own personal opinion.  You may have other experiences, and that’s fine – but this is how I see it.

Next rankings should be less contentious – onboard amenities!

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So my shitty experiences on Delta, and some rather shaky/scary experiences on Skywest (“This is your Captain speaking. I’m sorry about the delay, but when we landed, a piece fell off of the airplane.  We had to find it and figure out what piece it was before we could fix it.”), I’ve decided to put together my own list of airline rankings, mostly for the Majors, but there will be a minor/secondary carrier that will show up here or there.  So far, these are the categories that I’m going to cover:

  • Safety
  • Onboard Amenities
  • Routes
  • Partners
  • Customer Service
  • Reliability

If you want or can think of other categories, let me know!  I’ll be publishing these throughout the upcoming week, so be on the look out!

 

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So why am I so hard on Delta Airlines?

If you follow my twitter feed, then you’ll note that as of late, I’ve had some not very nice things to say about Delta.  Now don’t get me wrong; they are a big airline, and they have a very nice …

 

I am neither a good reporter, nor prognosticator

So I recently had some questions and posited some opinions in the Alaska vs. Delta frenemies shuffle that’s been going on the last few months – and I got some stuff wrong.  But not only that, I got some prognostication …

 

Who will make the next move in the Alaska Airlines vs Delta frenemies shuffle?

So there’s been a bunch of new developments along the lines of Alaska Airlines and their partner Delta.  When Delta started expanding into Alaska’s territories, things got bad.  Alaska started to retaliate, with some pretty bold moves into Salt Lake …

 

Two sides to every story

So there’s a headline that caught my eye of, “US appeals court revives lawsuit vs United Airlines over wheelchair,” and I immediately did a Scooby Doo “Ruh roh” double-take, then went to the article.  Seems a woman had an issue …

 

Probably the ugliest volley in the Delta/Alaska “frenemies” game

So everyone’s probably already heard about how Delta and Alaska – once great friends, have slowly been turning into enemies.  And while they still are cordial to each other, the heat is getting turned up – but quick.  Delta has …

 

The AA/US Merger Is Finalized!

So if you’ve been a frequent flyer of either American or US Airways, you probably just got notice that the merger between the two giants, making the largest airline in the world.  But it’s only done on paper; there are …