There must be a better way: Airlines that get it right

Third in a series.

Sadly no airline gets it completely right, and we won’t be happy until almost all airlines (and airports) get it right. But the good news is that some airlines are getting some of it, and one even gets most of it. Let’s have a quick look at some good practices, and in the next post look at what great could mean in reality. I’d love t hear of other great things that you have experienced while flying.
Virgin Atlantic take care of you from your house to destination – but only if you pay full fare business class – which is pretty steep. They will pick you up in a limo take you to the airport, provide pre and post flight lounges and drive you to your end point.  The lounge in Heathrow is something else – last time I was there I got a last minute haircut (distressingly quick these days), while I usually grab a shower and breakfast when I arrive in London.
In flight Virgin Atlantic offer an “eat anytime” service, which is fantastic. It means you eat on your own terms through the flight, and that the servers have their work staggered through the flight. Manwhile the legendary on-board massages are for real, while the bar in Virgin Upper is a bit overrated, but there nonetheless.
Other food experiences are less expensive yet impressive – several airlines give you a cardboard box, which they can hand out really quickly and you can eat then, leave until later or even take with you. Some cheap airlines simply leave it up to you – if you want to eat, then bring your own food, which is perfectly acceptable on short flights with no delays.

With JetBlue, and others, they offer drinks using a restaurant approach – asking for orders and then fulfilling them a few at a time. This takes away the massive carriages blocking the passageway, while making you more relaxed about when you get attended to.

On Air NZ long distance business class, amongst others, (not AirNZ to Perth though) the tray can swivel out of the way, and with the angled seats you don’t have to squeeze past someone else. That swivel isn’t perfect though, but you can squeeze past for a walk if you need to.

Checking in has improved substantially with check-in machines, and great airlines see that there is no queue to drop bags. Meanwhile several airlines offer a physically separate check-in for business travelers – giving a peaceful environment in a area of chaos.

This week I noticed with Qantas in Perth a separate and pleasingly short queue for those that got “rejected” by the machine – which probably means those that are running a tight schedule, as well as those with mucked up flights. A nice way to accelerate the needy.

An the ultimate check-in was, pre 911, on the Delata and US Air Shuttles between NYC, DC and Boston. We could check in at the gate and board shuttles a handful of minutes before the doors shut. If too many people turned up for a flight, then another would be rolled out to accommodate the overload. Meanwhile you could always cross over to the other airline’s shuttle (they ran at staggered times) and use the competitor’s ticket to get a seat. Fantastic.

But security is now an issue we have to contend with. However at many smaller airports it is pretty efficient, and at larger airports, well, the TSA seems to have an answer. In Denver (first) and now in a bunch of other cities the TSA has instituted ski lanes for security. Black for the professional traveler moving fast, red for the experienced and green for the less professional and the encumbered. Go black if you are traveling light, have your laptop out of your bag and shoes off, but watch out for the New York style reaction if you get it wrong and hold up the other punters. Go green if you have a family in tow, or just lots of time to kill – you’ll get friendlier and more personal help.

As mentioned before, Virgin America puts a lot of this together. You can check in online, at a kiosk or at a counter. On the plane they provide eat when you want food service, power at every seat, MP3’s to play, big screen seat back video with even 25 pay per view movies along with games. And that’s just economy. In Business (“First”) you also get a bigger reclining seat – with massage built in. The fares are pretty cheap – $127 for economy and $489 for business is showing right now for a flight from DC to LAX in May. A Qantas Brisbane to Perth flight for the same date – more or less the same distance – costs $AU344 economy and $1084 business. No comparison, but still there are not many routes for Virgin America.
So – some airlines are doing it right, but there is so so much more we could do to make air travel more pleasant. Utopia is up in the next post in the series. Meanwhile – are there any other examples of good?

Published by Lance Wiggs


3 replies on “There must be a better way: Airlines that get it right”

  1. Nice series Lance. It appeals to me as I really don’t like flying at all.

    Recent experiences:

    – Domestic Air New Zealand: quick and gets the job done without too much fuss. Really a bus in the sky though the seats are sooo tiny.

    – Business Qantas (Syd-Akl): Old 767s…you get a DVD player now with some discs and the breakfast was average. I used some airmiles but wouldn’t pay for it even though the extra space is very welcome if you are preparing for meetings or just like your personal bubble. I should add its the first time i’ve used my airmiles on Qantas..i have so many but never ever find flights i can use them on. ANZ is way ahead on this.

    – Business Air New Zealand (AKL-SFR, LAX-AKL): Great check in Auckland. Lounge was ok (bit 70s) but service was good. The flight was great apart from the fact that the movie system failed and only the old films worked. So i watched Top Gun for the nth time and went to sleep early. Beds were comfy and service/food was really good with Kiwi relaxed approach.

    Going through security at SFR-LAX was a nightmare. I got stuck in some chamber and hosed down with some gas. Took about 20 minutes to get through and I had holes in my socks which wasn’t a good look.

    – Economy Emirates (Chc-Syd): Pretty good all round though we had a plane change 777 instead of the A340-500. Meant the config was 3-4-3 instead of 2-4-2. I like the 2 on the side in economy as feels a bit less restrictive (i get a bit claustrophobic on planes). the 3-4-3 lessened the fun somewhat but i always just get my film going before takeoff.

    – Business United (SFR-LAX): Makes ANZ’s 767s look good. How can the US have businesses like Microsfot, Google, GE etc and have such awful airplanes. Beats me.

    – Economy Alitalia (MIL-Mal): Nice looking staff but don’t bother unless you like old planes.

    – Economy British Airways (Mal-LGW): Efficient and calm. Home counties approach and planes look like they will get there on time.

    – Business Singapore Airlines (Chc-Mil/Lhr-Chc): I saved the best for last. The Chc-Sin leg was the best service i’ve ever had on an airline (including concorde which was pretty flash). Singapore Airlines is just hard to beat though the new 777-300s on the European route already looked a bit worn though the 34″ wide !! seats were great. Food, service and comfort are all tops. However the lounge at Changi was average unlike ANZs new lounge in ChCh which is very Canterbury Chic.

    I generally try to avoid flying if possible but do appreciate space and comfort when trapped at 38000ft for 10 hours or more. I’m a bit of a control freak on the type of place i fly on. I don;t like propellor thingys which is a problem in NZ. I prefer my planes to be big and with lots of engines. I can live without the food but do like a big seat with built in films to keep my mind off the flying.

    But there’s no place like home.

    How about a post on hotels….:-)


  2. Great insight Lance.

    Knowing your tallness I can understand why business class Air New Zealand would be appealing.

    I recently travelled Auckland – London via Hong Kong on Air New Zealand, first leg premier economy and second leg business class. As I’m of the shorter stature the premier seat offered me the leg room required, The only hassle is stepping over people when the consent flow of drinks is too much to hold.

    A good tip is to get a window seat in premier economy as it offers extra storage for your shoes, pillows and laptop.

    Premier offered similar food and service for a fraction of the cost of business class. Next time I’m not flying business – keeping the extra money and buying a smaller laptop (If someone else is paying then its business class all the way baby).


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