Frequent Flyer Part 4: Airlines

Your choice of airline really matters and because you are going to marry one be sure to do your homework to prevent a bitter divorce. The most important decision when choosing an airline is to try and find one with non-stop service to your most common destinations. While you may not mind lay-overs and can benefit from the rewards of multiple segments especially for travel of short distances, they significantly increase the time of trips and increase the chances of being delayed.
Once you have narrowed down the choices, you should look to see what the remaining airlines offer in terms of amenities and incentives. You can search online for individual airlines, but I have included my thoughts on some of the airlines I have traveled. You will notice a lot of airlines are not listed as I do not have enough experiences with them to comment. From what I have heard from others, JetBlue is one of the best airlines. I plan to travel with them soon and will comment when I do.

Continental – Part of Star Alliance (merging with United)
Most Continental flights are Bowing 737 aircrafts. One nice amenity offered is that most flights have direct TV on each seat. While viewing is only free for first class, it only costs $6 to watch for the whole flight and can be great for longer trips or when traveling with younger family members. Another nice amenity is that each row has power so you can charge your electronic equipment while in flight.
Southwest is unique in that all seats are treated as first class. The model is more of a first come, first serve with airline status mattering. You are not assigned seats on the flight. Instead, you are given seating groups based on when you check in and what status you have. When your seating group is selected you board the plan and get to select from any remaining seats. While this can be nice when traveling alone, it can be a significant problem if traveling in groups as sitting together is not guaranteed.
Some amenities to note on this airline are:

  • First and second checked luggage under 70 pounds fly for free (this is rare amongst airlines today without status)
  • Snacks are typically better than most other airlines.

United – Part of Star Alliance
For longer or typically more crowed flights, United typically uses Bowing 757 aircrafts. These aircrafts have TVs mounted in the middle aisle every few rows. The other most commonly used aircraft by United are Canadian Regional Jets. Most of these aircrafts feature TVs above the middle seat every few rows.
One really nice amenity offered by United is Economy Plus seating. In these seating areas customers can enjoy up to five additional inches of space. While this may not seem significant I can attest it is. If you plan to work on a laptop or read over paperwork, it makes all the difference.
Another nice amenity United offers that most other airlines do not is that the gate features TVs with all relevant information about the flight including upgrades, standby lists, weather, and flight status.
As a side note, channel 9 of most United flights will allow you to listen to the pilots communicating to ground personnel.
US Airways – Part of Star Alliance
US Airways is by far my least favorite airline. I have yet to see a TV or working radio on any US Airways flight. In addition, alliance status does not give you automatic upgrades to first class. I can not think of a single benefit of flying with US Airways and typically avoid it whenever possible.

© 2011, Steve Flanders. All rights reserved.

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