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Anonymous7 Jan 2011
Whilst US domestic flights are not always known for their service, I feel that there are a lot of good points which UK shorthaul operators could learn from.
Frontier (originally a local Denver airline) has outstanding service and immaculately clean planes. It operates a simple 3 tier fare structure with classic fares about $10 more than economy and gives you 2 free checked bags (i.e. far cheaper than legacy US carriers), and preferrential allocated seating. In addition for that fare you get free Direct TV (a number of live channels) which you can watch from boarding until you disembark. Additionally there are free soft drinks and the MidWest cookie (since the takeover). Why cannot UK airlines offer such in flight entertainment which can be watched throughout on your own TV screen for UK / European flights. The service is always very friendly and reliable.
Southwest seems to be another popular option and offers great flexibility. Any fare (even the cheapest $39) are refundable by means of a credit. What a great idea as there are no charges for a refund and they can be used against any future fare and so often it makes sense to book the cheapest fares and cancel nearer the time if you will use Southwest in the future. This is direct contrast to BA / BMI etc where you need flexible fares. I also assume Southwest are popular due to allowing 2 free bags! Whilst I have thought of them as the Ryanair of America as there is no pre allocated seating (though you can now buy early boarding for $10), this is unfair as they don’t try and charge you for extras and offer free soft drinks onboard and crisps and peanuts.
Whilst I admit i would occasionally fly AA if it is a location where there is a lounge and they do offer competitve fares, the service never matches that of Southwest or Frontier. Also, why would anyone pay their excessive bag charges (luckily being a OneWorld Frequent Flyer, I am exempt). As for United that is another story, and they seem to be getting even more uncompetitive.
Certainly Frontier and SWA seem to offer good service within the States versus the traditional carriers (although when I was sitting on SWA, I was regretting not flying frontier as the seats seem bigger and I missed being spoilt with the entertainment). In the summer, I regularly take my mountain bike and whilst SWA and Frontier only charge $50 for the privilege (usually waived), AA and United charge in excess of $175!
I would recommend Frontier to anyone! And suggest UK carriers could learn a thing or two!7 Jan 2011
I am surprised to hear that Southwest offer so many freebies….I had always thought that Ryanair had copied the business model from Southwest, which is a very profitable airline (as is Ryanair). I know Tony Ryan, the founder of Ryanair, used the Southwest model as the basis of his airline and then handed it over to the money machine that is O’Leary!
The last time I flew a US carrier was a US Airways flight to Philadelphia from Dublin, about 7 years ago………my God, what a load of crap that was. The smallest seats I have ever sat in on a long haul flight, plastic, not leather……food (if you could call it that) thrown at you by what can only be described as ancient old dragons as FA’s………..
I thought “this is the lowest of the low” until I landed at Philly for the connecting flight and had to run for the gate as we had arrived late, and while running, heard a gate change announcement for my flight to a gate that was almost beside the one we had landed at, and that I had spent the last five minutes running away from…………!!
I flew in First on one of the last Pan Am flights from Miami to London and that was an absolute pleasure….great food, good service, comfy seats…………..and then it appeared the US airline industry went into free fall!!!!
Anyway, I am pleased that it appears to be turning over a new leaf8 Jan 2011
You should check out Virgin America; superb domestic First Class, and a really innovative approach.
Very impressive indeed. Shame BT hasn’t yet got around to doing a trip report….8 Jan 2011
Yes I have only ever heard good comments about Virgin America from the few people I know who have travelled it. It is a shame it does not have a bigger network as it is rarely on routes I travel. However in April, I have just booked first class from SFO to Las Vegas based on your advice and am looking forward to experiencing it.
James – Southwest is fairly generous. They give unlimited soft drinks and do not hesitate in giving out more than one. Additionally, their crisps and peanuts are far more considerable than BA’s domestic offering. The seats recline, and though not the most luxurious 737 it is adequate for a short hop (no entertainment). I also think Americans like the 2 free bags, although many take advantage as they seem to take third and fourth huge ones and then gate check them for free. I have never travelled Ryanair but it sounds very different from what I have read from the press (ie southwest do not charge for checking in at the airport etc. In fact there are very few add ons). I think one of the greatest aspects as mentioned before is that all tickets can be changed at no cost (subject to fare difference) or a credit received for the full value against a future flight (and with no admin charge). They also seem to wait for connections which was a bit if a pain as the plane I was boarding was on time, but we had to wait for an Orlando flight as my flight was the last of the day.
There just seems to be a growing amount of options away from the traditional US carriers, and I wonder how they survive.8 Jan 2011
Alaska (AK) offers consistently good service, especially in First, and flies to Mexico, Canada and the East Coast in addition to its home territory in the Western US. They almost invariably win customer satisfaction awards for on-time performance and no bumping, no lost baggage etc.
Their “Boardroom” lounges are well up to BA standards, unlike most US airlines, and – Deep Joy!, as Perfesser Stanley Unwin used to say, they offer excellent draught beer.
Plus they are a oneworld partner, with earning and redemption benefits for BAEC members.
Virgin America is indeed a pleasure to fly, and their fares are bargains, even from SNA (Orange County, CA) where the delights of a splendidly civilised airport customarily come with a ticket surcharge.
While Southwest is a one-class discount airline, they operate with an efficiency and friendliness that puts not only Ryan etc to shame, but also, though I shall no doubt provoke VK’s imperious wrath for saying so, routinely match or beat the in-flight service I’ve experienced on Club Europe.
Finally, for shorthaul US domestic travel, don’t forget Amtrak. Agreed, it’s not ICE, TGV or AVE, or even DB, SNCF or RENFE, but it’s comfortable and cheap and avoids the TSA Goon Gauntlet.. Plus they still have dining cars! Remember those?16 Jan 2011
Simple truth is that there is not enough competition on UK domestic routes and so improvements and enhancements to service are simply not going to happen.
If there is any truth about BMI thinking about pulling out of Glasgow then competition is going to vanish on the GLA LHR route entirely. Fares will rise steeply and quickly and BA will exploit the monopoly it would then have on the route.
A bigger issue is that whilst we have this myopic government and no 3rd runway at LHR, UK domestic routes will dwindle as carriers will focus their attention of the more lucrative long haul flights. This will leave just two options to those living near regional hubs, either they take the train or the fly on a non UK/ European based airline.
BA are not going to open up UK hubs anytime soon and the middle Eastern Carriers and others are already offering departures from the regional airports by passing
I think that some of the ideas are long overdue on European routes as short haul flying in Europe is an expensive chore and anything over 2.5 hours is simply awful. IFE and decent snacks in economy are a must but, when paying to fly in Club Europe or business class, significantly better food and a great deal more space is required and very soon.
I have been shot down in flames on this site before for comparing Intra Asian services of up to 5 hours with the rubbish we endure in Europe. It may not be possible to shift from short haul to long haul aircraft on most European flights, but even 20 years ago Qantas and Ansett were providing a superb business class / First class short haul product. In the rush to the gutter here in Europe, airlines have dumped service and packed in seats. The ground experience, especially for BA in T5 has improved significantly but I have never seen the point of sitting in the First lounge in T5 only to me met by filthy seats, substandard, food and a pretty shabby Club Europe product once on board the aircraft.
I accept that legacy carriers have had to adapt to meet the demands or price conscious travellers but in doing so they have lost sight of the Business class passenger
I am quite certain that the first major European carrier that dumps variable seating configurations and reintroduces a dedicated First or Business class cabin will be richly rewarded.17 Jan 2011
One has to remember that very many US carriers fill their premium cabins not with premium fare paying passengers, but with upgrades for their most frequent customers.
As someone who uses Club Europe services a great deal, I have to say I cannot recognise the possibly hyperbolic description of “filthy seats, substandard food”.
I enjoy the breakfast on board, and the salads in the evenings (with the exception of the nasty artichoke aberration) are good and sometimes excellent (cous cous and salmon being my favourite). Now it’s not gourmet cuisine, but I don’t fly around Europe to delight my tastebuds. It is very edible and ties one over if you have been in meetings all day with only a snack for lunch.
On the point of “filthy seats” there are from time to time cabins which are less than perfect; but this very much the exception rather than the rule, and the extent of my dissatisfaction would be the odd crumb, or perhaps a tray with some coffee residue on it; nothing that can’t be effectively handled with the infamous “moist towelette”!
Sure improvements could be made, but any improvement will come at a cost to the passenger; while I can still get to most of the destinations I need for under €500 rtn, CE remains an option; any more than that and I’ll stick to economy.
The bottom line is that for all the demands for improved space, better food and other service improvements, most corporates simply do not permit business class travel under 2.5hrs in Business Class, and that demand is not coming back anytime soon. There is certainly no appetite for increasing the price of CE, which would further challenge those still able to book in the premium cabins to downgrade.
Some make the comparison to smaller carriers like Air Malta, who apparently run an excellent premium cabin; but one has to remember they have a very limited route network compared the majors, do not have the huge variation of routes offered by other carriers, and have a political (and commercial) imperative to support their flagship routes. They also received a €52m subsidy in 2010 to avoid bankruptcy and continue to offer such a service, an option not available to most European airlines.
Sadly, there is a gathering tendency towards abolishing premium cabins on shorthaul, and to a certain extent this cheapening of the product is a self-fulfilling prophesy; rubbishing the product which is in my opinion as good as you’re credibly able to offer for the price charged in the current environment is much more likely to result in its abolition due to reduced demand, than increased take up and the justification for the higher fares which might support improved services and better seats.17 Jan 2011
Two items to think about.
1. Easyjet one way flights LTN-GVA Feb half term £503 one way!
2. I just wonder if Ryanair / Easyjet put in a couple of rows of bigger seats.. would they sell?17 Jan 2011