a row of seats in an airplane

Are they really that bad?

Today, I did what many business travelers do every day. Took breakfast in one city, took meetings in another and made it home in time for dinner. Simple enough, but the intricate processes which must align for this to happen are no small feat. Airlines such as Delta, United, Alaska JetBlue and American have invested heavily in passenger friendly technology like mobile boarding passes and streamlined operations to boost on time performance, making travel more seamless than ever before. All of this had me asking one question: why do I give U.S. airlines a hard time?

a row of seats in an airplaneWell…

As they say, “if the shoe fits”. Despite all the positive moves, passenger investment and fleet upgrades, U.S. airlines have a unique knack for bad press. Without looking too deep into the history books, things like…

Don’t really help to endear the airlines to customers.

Free Country

But with that said – it’s a free country, and in true American fashion, the almighty dollar is king. Airlines don’t operate on fairness and they never will. When times are good, they reap whatever they can possibly sow, and right now the airlines are reaping in historically positive numbers. On time performance is up, tech is improving and fleets are slowly but surely modernizing. So why give them such a hard time if planes lift off and touch down on time?

Advantage Play

Airlines in other parts of the world are forced to play fair with passengers under circumstances like delays and cancellations, guaranteeing overnight hotels, even paying actual cash in some circumstances. In the U.S. the list of passenger rights is far from a novel. There hardly are any, other than denied boarding. When these airlines take the already lax laws, which don’t require them to put people up for overnight delays, or to book onto alternative airlines when flights are cancelled and then take things even further with unfriendly and frankly unnecessary travel snubs, it just stokes the fire. It’s almost impressive how transparently uninterested they are in 99% of customers.

What Counts

I arrived at LaGuardia at 5:30 AM for a 6AM flight and made it without incident. The flight took off on time and landed early. The same happened in DC, arriving at the curb at 3:35 for a 4PM flight, and returning promptly to New York with an on time arrival. Mobile boarding pass and responsive airline apps made it easy to navigate through the airport, and for all its many shortcomings, TSA PreCheck was fantastic. Wifi is almost everywhere, airport lounges are on the up, and fares are low. Basically: products are getting better, and if U.S. airlines would just stop scoring own goals by making their businesses so easy to hate, I might not have a reason to criticize much longer.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. “I arrived at LaGuardia at 5:30 AM for a 6PM flight and made it without incident. ”

    With 12hrs to spare, I would certainly hop so, LoL 😉

  2. Why? Because they deserve it. I travel alot between ATL and SFO/LAX. I have been considering going via FRA on LH from now on. 🙂

  3. The airlines are preditory! Someone must have told them that the more uncomfortable they make it the more they can charge! CEO of American said, people like crowded planes! What a moron!

  4. Interesting points, yet airline fares paid in cash are at record lows. $250 flights to Europe on full service carriers, under $300 flights to Hawaii from the east coast. Also, who the F is paying all those checked baggage fees? With all these co-branded credit cards/status/carry on’s…..Valid points but I think the airline experience for consumers is close to at it’s best.

  5. Amazed how Delta don’t allow first class passengers access to their lounges when flying within the USA.

  6. Roy – None of the US carriers give lounge access to First class domestic passengers so it’s not just the usual whipping boy in these posts (Delta). Each of the 3 major US carriers does provide lounge access to Business/First Class passengers on International journeys.

    Now that being said based on elite status (Diamond for Delta) you can get Sky Club access as one of the benefits. I’m not sure about American and United so maybe someone else can advise on that.

    Also AA, DL, UA each have co-branded premium credit cards that include lounge access regardless of the class of service. In my case I have my AX Delta Reserve card which provides this benefit.

    Now the argument will be that non-US carriers give lounge access to First Class passengers but keep in mind that in the majority of cases those are also actually International trips (I know not always). With the exception of maybe Australia, China, India or Russia how many other large land mass countries are there with lots of domestic routes. Also I don’t know the lounge policies of all of these other carriers so maybe someone can fill in that detail so that we have a realistic comparison.

  7. Certainly 1) with a broad brush, US airlines deserve it, but 2) some US airlines are better than others. One example, in re: checked baggage fees: WN (no fees, period), AS (no increase), etc. Certainly airlines do stupid things, no denying that; and there’s no denying that all airlines are “for profit” corporations, and they go out of their way to earn more and more at the customers expense. This isn’t only true of increasing fares or baggage fees, but also in terms of comfort (shrinking pitch, for example, and is there anyone on the planet who actually likes AA’s bathrooms on their MAX aircraft?¹).

    HOWEVER, as others have pointed out, airlines have ways around many of their fees (e.g.: a co-branded card or elite status waives baggage fees). Clearly WN’s Companion Pass is a great perk (if you qualify), and the Companion Fare from AS is an excellent benefit of a co-branded card. And jetBlue’s MINT is wonderful!². And as an ex-VX (and now AS) elite, I certainly can’t complain when 10 out of my last 11 flights, my upgrade to F cleared.

    ¹ I’m still waiting for AA to get sued for violating the ADA.

    ² I’d certainly be flying B6 more often if I lived in Boston or New York; but from the West Coast, the opportunities are rather limited.

  8. Another reason for complaints: SILENCE on part of the American Airlines Customer Relations. American Airlines flight AA720, from Charlotte NC to Rome, Italy, on September 11, 2018, was delayed for 6+ hours due to mechanical problems. My wife and I, both healthy senior citizens, lost our connecting flight from Rome to Trieste and we connected with AA Customer Relations, by e-mail, to request reimbursement ONLY for the extra Euros we had to pay for a later flight to Trieste. AA Customer Relations acknowledged receiving our e-mail, which included all information and documents – meticulously put together, scanned, and forwarded. However, to date [October 14, 2018] we received no further replies. We’ll persist, but we’ll also persist in avoiding flying AA – if we can help it. Larry Odzak

  9. Yes, it is easy to beat up on the airlines because they want to make a profit. For someone who traveled 16 out of the last 20 years regularly for business and pleasure, there is plenty of blame to go around.
    So, let’s start with fares: why do we think we should pay less for a cross country fare today than 20 years ago? Greed, well yes but not the airlines, that would be consumers. Well, I deserve to take my family on a vacation, so the fares must be reasonable or maybe you should be able to save and afford that vacation instead of doing it on someone else’s back. So, if we expect to get a raise over the last 20 years, why would the airlines not be able to give their employee raises? Hmmm, double standard??
    Fees, well if I charge less money for airfare, how them do I make a profit or pay my bills, that would be through fees. Ok, you ask why so much? That, I can say, whatever they can get away with so if I check a bag, I make it super heavy, so the checked bag weight is now at 60 vs. 75 lbs. Who can lift that weight? Not the gate agents.
    Well, let’s talk about Southwest; they can afford to charge low fees (well that is not entirely true anymore and never was but for only a small % of places). Ok, the business model is drastically different; let’s only flow where most folks want to go and then during the time of year. And, let’s have 1 airplane size. Smart!! Unless you need to get to Boise, Portland, ME or all those other places that SW did not go to or still don’t go to.
    So, the flight is late? And folks should be compensated? Weather, they don’t control; people showing up 30 minutes before a flight and delays boarding so that now we don’t take off before the weather gets bad. Entitlement might be a factor in demonizing the airlines.
    I could go on from what I have seen just over the last 5 years, which has gotten worse from people not wanting to pay for seats for them to sit next to their kids to sit together but then demand others to give up their paid aisle seats when the person in the window will give up theirs; or bringing on bags too big for the overhead and having to take out items when they were too cheap to check it or women who can’t lift their bags into the overheads and then get indignant that folks don’t jump to their feet to help them.

    If I had all day, I could go on. Here is the bottom line; everything is a two – way street. Airlines do what they do in some part because they are forced to based on their consumer base. People want cheap fares, so they should pay for what is not important; checked bags, carry on, etc. People set the pace; it is a cheap shot to say the airlines did this on their own; they are in business to provide a service, not for free. If folks wanted to pay a fair price to travel to Europe ($250 is not), from the East coast to the West coast, ($250 is not it), or from Boston to Florida ($99 is not it), then we would be having a different conversation. I don’t see you taking tasks with the auto industry for the average price of a car, the I-phone $1000, raggedly jeans or the other ludicrous stuff folks pay outrageous prices for which provide true little value, but folks seemed lulled into idiotsy to do so.

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