North American airlines rank among the worst in the world. In any survey, Asian and Middle Eastern airlines are always among the top 10 airlines in the world. But as an American, it’s easier for me to join the frequent flier program of a US carrier because I can get a branded credit card and rack up miles. We have four major choices: American Airlines, United, Delta, and US Airways (Continental doesn’t count because it merged with United).
Out of those four, I stick with American Airlines because they have the best customer service, a good frequent flier program, and friendly staff.
The flying experience on American Airlines is a lot better than other US airlines, and their planes are nicer too. American Airlines’ fleet may be a bit old (all US carriers’ fleets are), but they still have a nice interior, and their newer model planes are really good. The AA 767-300, for example, is a bit more spacious. The AA 767-200 is nice and has Wi-Fi. Unfortunately, like most US carriers, AA doesn’t offer personal television screens in the back of the seats on any of their continental flights (Update 2014: their new A321 and 777’s all have seat back entertainment systems). Qantas flights from Sydney to Perth have personal screens, as does a two-hour flight on Eva Air, but you can forget about personal screens on continental flights in the US. I’d be more upset about this if AA was the only airline that did this, but every major US carrier does it, with the exception of Jetblue and Virgin America. Even when I get upgraded to a better class, there are still no screens. This bothers me to no end. I don’t think there’s an excuse for not having personal screens in 2010.
September 2011 Update: I recently flew American across the Atlantic from London to Boston. They fly 757s, and in business class they have hard shell reclining seats with (very bad) personal viewing screens. Sadly, economy is still missing any modern amenity most travelers have come to expect on a long-haul flight. It makes me wonder why anyone would fly them internationally over one of their alliance partners that actually have personal screens and new interiors. The quality of the food was the same too.
Televisions aside, what keeps me flying with American Airlines is the service and their loyalty program. AA’s frequent flier program has better perks and rewards than its major competitor, United. You can forget about Delta too, since Skyteam only has a few airline partners. While Star Alliance has more carriers, United (the major US Star Alliance partner) has an awful redemption policy. They don’t offer as many perks on lower elite status levels and their upgrade policy isn’t as good. Moreover, it takes more points to redeem your flights. I like American and, if the flight isn’t full, I’m automatically bumped up to the next class. Plus, flights can be redeemed starting at 12,500 miles.
The main reason I like American is that they have better service. I’ve found their ground staff to be good, and their flight attendants are more accommodating than other airlines. If I oversleep and miss a meal or they run out of something, they usually give me a leftover meal or some free alternatives. Plus, they usually pour me a stiff drink when I ask. They aren’t as grouchy as staff from other airlines, and that makes a big difference.
But what really sealed the deal with American was an incident that happened a few weeks ago. I participated in the American Airlines challenge, which meant getting 10,000 points in three months for Platinum status. The booking code I had for my flight to Sydney should have qualified me for platinum status, but a Qantas desk agent messed up when I checked in, and I didn’t get my points. I accumulated regular miles, but it didn’t count towards the challenge. Needless to say, I was quite upset, and I called AA to complain. I also tweeted about my experience with them. A few days later, I received an email stating that they would give me platinum status because I had bought the ticket in good faith. They thanked me for my loyalty, and now I have elite status on American. Last year, United broke a guy’s guitar, and even after the guy made a viral video of it, they barely did anything. American Airlines seems to have learned a lesson from that incident.
So while AA’s planes are only slightly better than the rest and they still don’t have TV screens in the head rests, at least they have good staff and better service than the other US carriers. At the end of the day, we use companies because we not only like their products, but also their employees. It’s the people who make the companies. And while their tickets aren’t always the cheapest, I like the folks at American Airlines.