Why I Only Fly the Major Airlines


For many years I was flying between sixty and one hundred twenty segments per year. A segment is simply one leg of a flight. A round trip ticket with no connections, is two segments. That earned me either top tier status or second tier status on American Airlines. AA has been my airline of choice for close to twenty-five years. There have certainly been times when I was upset with one thing or another, but overall American Airlines has always done its best to keep me coming back as a satisfied customer. I have also been a frequent flyer on Delta and Air Canada. I have flown over a million miles and taken well over one thousand flights. So, I definitely speak from experience when it comes to flying and traveling in general. There are essentially five main reasons, for staying away from the bargain airlines.

First, the experience is often sub-par and there is little recourse. Just recently, Frontier Airlines and now Spirit Airlines, have eliminated their customer service phone lines, opting instead for online chatbots. It removes an important connection between you and the carrier. This is particularly important while you’re flying. Booking flights online should be the chosen method but after that, it’s always preferable to be able to speak to a human being. It’s one of the most important reasons for paying for the American Express Platinum Card. Several times while being stranded at airports due to Snowstorms, I’ve been able to rely on Amex to book a room for me, when supposedly, all of the rooms were already booked.

Second, it’s become evident that most of the recent passenger confrontations, but not all of course, have occurred on both of these carriers. I don’t include Southwest Airlines because despite the fact it’s also an off priced carrier, the airline does it’s best to keep its customers happy. They truly attempt to provide a great experience, while keeping prices affordable. The airline does that by first and foremost, not assigning seats. You line up and board based on the ticket you booked. You pay extra for priority boarding which many people who fly often prefer so they can have access to the overhead compartments. Anyone who flies regularly has seen that poor soul, who boarded last, wandering around the plane looking for a place to put their carry-on luggage, only to roll it forward and have it placed underneath the aircraft.

Third, the major airlines have more planes and more flights, thereby making it more likely that you will reach your destination when there are delays in air travel. There are many reasons for delays including weather and problems with the equipment. If you fly on a smaller, bargain carrier with fewer planes, you’re likely to face longer delays or perhaps even forced into overnight stays. When flying the major airlines, particularly in their hubs, they are far more likely to have replacement equipment should it become necessary. This is particularly important when you fly regularly.

Fourth, the major carriers fly into the major airports. For some, that may not seem like an advantage. Flying into Atlanta, O’Hare or LAX can be very hectic and disconcerting, particularly for those unfamiliar with these airports. However, you are less likely to face cancellations when landing at the major airports because they have more landing and takeoff slots so even if there are delays, the chances of taking off or landing are better than at smaller airports. Furthermore, the bargain carriers often fly into a cities’ second tier airports. For example, Southwest flies into Midway in Chicago, not O’Hare. Midway, while a nice small airport, isn’t located in the greatest area and O’Hare is more convenient to the city and points north.

Fifth, I once had a long discussion with a Captain while experiencing a flight delay and he explained to me why I should never fly the off priced airlines. His reasoning: cheaper flights mean cheaper costs, including lower salaries. That means maintenance workers are paid less. It means lower salaries for Captains, First Officers and cabin crews, which equates to less experience, and even dissatisfaction. Like any job or profession, the more experience you have, the higher the salary you’re paid. It’s just common sense. Many of the small regional aircraft have very young crews flying those planes and that’s always been a concern. With experience comes knowledge. Talent and hard work will never replace experience. The only way to become an expert at any endeavor, is by putting in the time.

Any pilot with the minimum number of required flight hours can fly from JFK to O’Hare (ORD) on a sunny day. But what happens in an emergency? For example, the loss of an engine due to a bird strike or serious weather, (thunderstorms or snow?) Who do you want flying the plane in that situation? You want the person with the most experience, the person who has the most knowledge of that situation and the greatest number of hours on that aircraft. That is not to say that flying off priced carriers isn’t safe, but I prefer flying with experience. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, when your Captain says, “I think we’re going to end up in the Hudson, you want Captain Chesley Sullenberger at the helm.

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