The Saratoga Sun -

Nickels and dimes in the sky

 

December 5, 2018



It is the start of the holiday season and for many that means traveling by air to get to a desired destination.

I don’t know about you, but I used to love to have the adventure of going on an airplane trip.

When I was a tyke, because one set of my folks lived in Houston and the other set in D.C., my sister and I flew by ourselves at least half a dozen times.

On those flights, I can remember getting to visit the pilot cabin and getting toy airplanes. I doubt either practice happens in this day and age.

It seems like the last few times I have flown, flights have become more and more uncomfortable. Nay, the word is miserable.

Dare I say it; I get the feeling many airlines could care less about the comfort of their passengers.

I have found Southwest and Alaska Airlines to be okay and Hawaiian Air was never bad when I used them. I should qualify, my trips on Hawaiian were between the islands and I can tolerate most any flight if it is under an hour.

Unfortunately, in the last decade, my experiences with Jet Blue, Frontier, American, Delta and United have been getting worse and worse.

I usually fly out of Denver to start a trip and United is the carrier I take most often because the airport is a hub for them.

I read a recent Consumer Report on airlines and it rated United very low. It was number seven out of 10.

Actually, I am surprised it was rated that high.

I haven’t always been so harsh about my feeling about United, but they have brought it on themselves with their additional fees for just about everything. Plus, more than once, I have had staff act like it was an inconvenience to help me.

What has happened to the friendly skies?

First Good Flight

Remembered

Although I flew around Europe in the late 80s, the first flight I remember with any detail was when I moved to Honolulu in 1990. Actually, it is funny I remember it at all. I drank many little bottles of Grand Marnier on the flight with a beer back—sort of a D.C. bartending tradition to drink those two together. I know one person in Saratoga who is shaking his head as he reads this.

The guy sitting next to me was someone going on vacation who worked in Hollywood and he wanted a drinking partner and just kept ordering for us. I was more than up for it since I had just left everything and everyone behind to move to a place where I knew not a soul. I remember having a good time and I give credit to the airline I was on.

The carrier was TWA. Remember that airline?

That flight set the bar.

Literally.

The Good Old Days

After Hawaii, I moved to Taiwan. That was the heyday of my flying. I had a job that provided me with a visa which had me leave every two months. It didn’t matter where I went, but I had to leave the country. I figured since I had to leave, I should do my best to see Asia.

Hong Kong was an hour flight, Manilla about the same, Bangkok a little over three hours and Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore around five hours.

I became quite discriminating in the airlines I flew.

Going on Hong Kong Airlines, several times I was upgraded to first class.

“Mr. Armstrong is it okay if we put you in first class?”

I never said no, if you can believe that.

I would like to say I have no idea why I got the upgrades, but a friend once told me he dressed up for flights and he would get bumped up. Made sense to me, so I was not your scruffy Western traveler when I checked in–and I guess it worked.

Thus started my love affair with most Asian airlines.

I fly Thai Airways any chance I get. Great service and the food is awesome. I also like EVA out of Taiwan, Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong and of course Hong Kong Airlines.

Then there is Singapore Airlines.

Singapore Airline economy feels like business class on any other carrier and the attendants actually seem to care about every passenger’s comfort. They are amazing.

I checked out my passports and saw that from the 90s until now, I have taken over 80 flights. That does not include any domestic flights I took once I got home.

United Airlines Nose Dive

There was a time when United international flights were decent. Once the airline put me on a wrong plane in D.C. and by the time they realized it, I had missed my plane. They put me up in an excellent hotel and had me on the right plane the next day. Another time, a flight got canceled while I was in San Francisco. They put me up in another great hotel, fed me and the plane that went out the next day had hardly any passengers. That was a great flight. I got to stretch out in an entire row and was wined and dined to my heart’s content. The flight attendant was super friendly, too.

That doesn’t happen today, I hate to say.

A flight gets canceled and if you are stranded, tough luck.

At best you might get a food voucher, but gone are the days of being put up at a hotel. At least that has been my recent experiences in Los Angeles, Chicago and New Orleans. All were United flights.

Every instance had me having to fend for myself even though it was not anything I had done wrong. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a family traveling with small children.

My Most Recent Trips

I started noticing airlines getting stricter with baggage and services going downhill about eight years ago. Domestic travel, which was never great, turned terrible and international flights started cutting corners. The Asian airlines have not really been as bad as their North American or European counterparts, but they aren’t the joy they once were. In fact there is one Asian airline I will tell about in a moment.

I stopped traveling internationally about four years ago, so I really don’t know if flights have gotten worse.

I can say, I have flown United a couple times to go to places in the USA over the past four years and I find more and more not to like about this airline.

I don’t think any flight has ever been on time departing in recent years and is almost always overbooked. Their incentives to take another flight are usually lame. Also, the check in has become mostly automated and it can be trouble. I always feel sorry for people checking in for the first time at these terminals, because you can see them clearly having trouble. United has cut down on staff in this area and it shows.

Now the major domestic carriers have basic economy, standard economy and enhanced economy. In United’s basic economy, they don’t even let you have a carry on bag. No changes are allowed in basic economy (Delta and American are the same) and if you are in standard economy or enhanced economy, United will allow a change for $200. American and Delta charge $75. Basic economy doesn’t allow priority boarding and it costs you now in standard and enhanced economy. The worst, the seats are getting less comfortable. That is huge to me. Little wonder I don’t enjoy flying the way I used to.

Solace

Anyone having to fly this holiday season, I am not trying to bum out as they face their trip. I hope all the bad experiences I have had with the airlines in recent times don’t happen to you. Although I don’t like how expensive it is to fly compared to the past with less bang for my buck, I know North American airlines are the best way to get around in the USA.

Still, if you find yourself traveling and it does get bad, just be grateful you are not flying China Southern Airlines.

Everything good I said about Asian airlines goes out the window concerning this carrier.

Even though United and other domestic airlines are getting worse with services and costs, nothing compares to how terrible this mainland Chinese airline is. Well, their tickets are not expensive, but there is a reason for that.

It is the worst international carrier (by far!) I have flown and actually, the worst airline period. I flew them twice (leaving and returning). Food was terrible, the entertainment center was non-existent, seats were uncomfortable and attendants were unpleasant to everyone.

So although I don’t rate many North American airlines all that high as the years go by, I am thankful they have not gotten as terrible as China Southern.

When you fly nowadays, you have to take every cloud with any silver lining.

Not flying China Southern is mine.

 

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