The Latest Volley in the Frenemies Fight Between Alaska and Delta

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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Airsnark’s Unscientific Guide To The Airlines – SAFETY

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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About this electronics stuff…

Okay, so first it was Delta and jetBlue that got the okay to go gate-to-gate with electronic gadgets.  Then it was American.  I had a question from a friend on this new policy, because he flew Delta mainline, where they announced the new policy, and then flew a Delta Connection flight, where the flight attendant nearly came unglued when he wouldn’t put his iPhone away during taxi out to the runway.

Try as they might, airlines aren’t telling their customers the distinction between “mainline” flights and those that are subcontracted.  Indeed, my friend’s Delta Connection flight was on ExpressJet, though it was branded a Delta Connection flight.

Earlier this week I got an email from US Airways saying that they were rolling out gate-to-gate electronic use – but they were actually freaking helpful!  They said that the new policy applied only to mainline US Airways flights, and that the policy didn’t yet apply to US Airways Express flights; that would come at a later date.  And just now, I got an email from Alaska Airlines saying that starting Saturday passengers on mainline flights would be able to use electronics, with sister carrier Horizon coming up soon, as well as subcontractor SkyWest, pending FAA approval.

From what I can tell, US Airways and Alaska Airlines are the only ones to roll out this new policy correctly.

So congrats you guys!  Travel is just about to get a little more interesting.

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Just fitting for AirSnark – Survey of the 11 worst airlines

Oh, what a snarky way to start the morning.  Huffington Post has put together a survey of “America’s 11 Worst Airlines” based on the 2010 Airline Quality Ratings.  The authors of the study do state that airline service has gotten better over the last year.  Here’s my take on the listings:

#11, US Airways: I avoid them like the plague, mostly because I don’t fly Star Alliance.  Last time I flew them, I did manage to wrangle a first class upgrade – but no drinks.  Seems a US Airways flight went “dry” because someone got a PAX drunk and they got a DUI.  Who the hell can fly US Airways and NOT drink?

#10, American Airlines:  Wow. They’re only #10 on the list? I have so many horror stories from AA.  Like being trapped next to a 600 pound passenger on an MD80 in the exit row. If that plane had gone down, we wouldn’t have been able to push his fat ass out the window exit – he literally would not have fit! I had to spend my time standing in the back of the plane, because he took up too much of my seat.  American’s response? NOTHING. Literally – they refused to respond.  Their customer service has to be the absolute WORST of any airline.

#9, ExpressJet: Nothing really to say about them. A regional carrier, so they have that against them. They tried to grow to do regional and stand-alone, but it was the wrong time.

#8: Alaska Airlines: Now I TOTALLY disagree with this one.  Of all airlines I have EVER flown, Alaska has to be my favorite.  Their dedication to passengers is second to none.  Something is up with this study – oh well!

#7: Mesa: Wow. Cutthroat yes (they were the ones that basically put Aloha out of business). But with sleepy, overworked pilots.  Besides – who wants to travel Hawaii (their subsidiary “go!” is all-Hawaiian) in tiny regional jets?

#6: United Airlines: I started avoiding them a while ago because of customer service.  Due to equipment malfunction once, Alaska Airlines put me on a UAL flight back home.  Standing near the gate, I was probably five feet from a gate agent, talking to flight crew.  No small talk between these people – it was “These customers make me crazy”, “I hate these people”, blah blah blah. They literally bad-mouthed the people they were flying for about 20 minutes, then put on fake smiles and boarded us.  And this wasn’t in a small, rinkydink airport – this was SFO.  Yeah, UAL deserves to be on this list – but WAY higher up in the listings.

#5, Sky West: “I don’t care how we do it on other airlines. This is how we do it on MINE.”  Yeah, that cheery, chipper attitude was just the tip of the iceberg when I flew them last, as a Delta Connection customer.  The flight attendants actually went through each and every seatback pocket and if they found ANYTHING of yours in it, they made you move it.  Didn’t matter – magazine, iPod, iron lung.  “This doesn’t go here. Move it to your own luggage or put it away elsewhere!” was the nasty decree.  Yeah, never again.

#4, Delta Airlines: I have mixed feelings about Delta.  The old Northwest is now gone, forever integrated into Delta.  And when that was gone, so was a lot of the reason to fly them.  I remember one flight leaving PDX.  As we were taxiing and the video was going, some woman got up, got her bag down, and started unpacking and repacking it.  The flight attendants just walked past her, not saying a thing.  At least the woman sat down before we took off.  On another flight, HALF of the airplane electrical just went out (lights, individual reading lights, television displays).  The flight attendants said it was “normal”.  WTF? Plus, with Delta’s call center outsourced to India (which it was the two times I called about four years ago), screw that!  The last Delta flight I took, their systems were so screwed up that they gave us free WiFi. Not because they were nice, but because they somehow couldn’t charge for it due to a glitch.

#3, Comair: Flew them just recently.  Eeh.  Cabin crews could use an attitude adjustment.  I need to fly them more to make more of an opinion.

#2, Atlantic SouthEast Airlines: Never flown them, so no opinion.

#1, American Eagle:  Let’s just sum this up with one experience I had a few weeks ago.  Gate agent: “You’re going to have to move row 4 to the back for weight and balance”.  Flight attendant, “Uh, yeah”.  Gate agent: “Do you need me to help?”.  Flight attendant: “Don’t worry about it”.  Gate agent left.  Flight attendant read her magazine some more.  When given word, she shut the cabin door.  Being in row 3, I heard the whole thing, and saw row 4 was ready to move.  Flight attendant did not even react; she played the audio of the safety briefing, did her walk through, and sat down. Row 4 stayed where they were and were never moved.  Thank goodness we had no issues on the flight.  But being THAT nonchalant about people’s safety? Yeah, that’s a load of crap!

So head on over to Huffington Post, and rank these airlines yourself!

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