I was not surprised when I heard that American Airlines announced that they had filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. What surprises me is that more US airlines are not in the red, given the hassle it has become to fly and the constant surcharges that have been created to get more money out of their customers. Also, the quality of the service has become worse and worse over the years, with the result that I avoid using their services when flying abroad – unless I absolutely have to.
Case in point: Over the last sixteen months, I have flown with four different companies. On September 2010, I went to Poland on Air France and was impressed by the service offered on Economy: wide chairs, plenty of leg space, a nice meal that included dessert and drinks. There was no surcharge for checked baggage, and when I missed my connection in Paris, the airline was quick to make arrangements for me to make my connection and provide me with accommodations and meals for the time I was there.
On the other hand, my wife and I flew down to South Carolina on Spirit Airlines on Thanksgiving 2010 because they offered a lower fare and were the only company with direct service to Myrtle Beach, but in the end we had to fork over as much as $ 45 for checked baggage and a seat choice. There is also a surcharge for carry-on, so I had to stow my backpack under a seat. On board, the seats were uncomfortable with very little leg space, and to add insult to injury, they even charged for water on board – I’m surprised there wasn’t a slot for dollar bills on the lavatory door.
Last September, we flew to Brazil on TAM Brazilian Airlines. Like with Air France, there was no extra charge for anything on board – not for earphones, wine or checked baggage. When I asked for another glass of wine as I finished my dinner, the flight attendant quickly obliged. And their service on domestic flights aren’t bad, either: on our connecting flights we got a warm snack (a sandwich), not a small pack of peanuts like most companies here offer. And let’s not forget Air Jamaica with its champagne flights on every class.
Last Thanksgiving, we used Delta to go to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 6:15 AM, and the company (via Twitter) told us to be there at least two hours before departure time. We followed their advice and when we reached JFK Terminal 3 (the old Pan Am WorldPort) at around 4:15, the space was closed — only to be opened after 4:30 AM. Delta’s JFK terminal is the worst on JFK – there are no restrooms, water fountains or any kind of simple creature comforts, so we had to stand around and wait until there was someone available to take our luggage.
Sure, Delta airplanes have Wi-Fi on board (at $ 12 per day – also with packages available). However, the system only works when over US territory – no disclaimer on the website, thank you very much, so on our way back from Santo Domingo service was unavailable until we were almost in New York. Ah, and there is the fact there is a charge for on-board entertainment on domestic flights unless you want to watch network TV on their little screens. There is extra leg space IF you pay for it, of course – but that doesn’t happen with foreign companies.
What US airlines must understand is that as customers, we all like good service, and we’d be lured to any company willing to give us a little more for our buck. JetBlue seems to have gotten the memo, and are easing up on some of the surcharges, and Delta at least stopped giving their miles an expiration date. But until they can match what their foreign competitors offer for international flights, I’ll continue NOT using American Airlines or any other US company.