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?