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I've been reading through Yelp and Trip Adviser and the reviews seem horrible for many of the airlines. I'm thinking of Air Canada, but half of their travel is something called Air Canada Rouge. Anyone care to offer advice re: airlines? I was tempted to book on Alitalia for direct flights, but when I read the reviews, they were horrible across the board, everywhere I looked. Also curious to hear about Air France or Delta.

Posted by
15640 posts

Air Canada gets high marks, Air Canada Rouge not so much. Air France you will have to change planes at Paris, which is problematic in its own right. I don't know where you are flying from. I like Swiss Air and SAS. Delta and United are so-so. KLM and Lufthansa are OK.
Edit- If Alitalia gets you where you want to go directly at a good price, I'd just suck it up and go. Maybe you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Posted by
2779 posts

I have flown from Seattle to Europe 12 times, once each year. We use to fly SAS and really liked them but then they quit flying from Seattle. Have flown Lufthansa several times with no complaints. Booked AF the last two years and ended up on Delta (code-share) and thought they were fine. I had read some bad reviews about Delta but I had none. On all of our flights we book non-stop, as opposed to direct, flights from Seattle to somewhere in Europe. Going to Paris & Bulgaria this June.

Posted by
20732 posts

Remember only people who have problems complain. I, too, have heard the horrid stores about Alitalia but was forced to use them from NY to Rome on a Delta code share. Surprising great flight, new equipment, very nice and somewhat better than the return flight on Delta. And remember also on this site and others you will get posters who have had no direct experience but are eager to report what they have heard. I go with price and schedule long before I worry about the specific airline.

Posted by
83 posts

We used Air Canada Rouge last summer - Minneapolis to Venice, returned from Rome. I thought the flight service/quality was fine. We DID upgrade to exit row seats for more room. It would have been nice to be on an airline that codeshares with others... We had flight cancellations and delays on the return segments, and we're not given any options to jump ship - (or plane as the case may be!) to another carrier for better scheduling. Their customer service leaves a lot to be desired too.... 1 hour holds to speak with someone, and the longest lines I've ever experienced at the airports.

Fair warning!!!!

Posted by
1106 posts

I have flown Alitalia a few times and nothing but the best service. I am flying them again this May. I personally try to fly European airlines whenever I can as the experience has been far superior.

Posted by
715 posts

I will echo what Charlotte said about Alitalia. I have had nothing but the best service on Aitalia.

Posted by
506 posts

My advise after flying many times to Europe is fly the airline that has their hub in your airport. We usually fly United because they are the biggest carrier out of San Francisco, we have flown Air France to Paris. There really is not better airlines. I read great things about Virgin Atlantic but last year to London I backed out of the tickets because they would not let us select seats until 30 days before and I just did not want to take the chance on such a long flight. If you use an airline that has a lot of flights in and out you run less of a chance of not getting flights if changes have to be made. Cheapping out seems to be the way of all airlines these days. The Saudi Airlines have excellent service but we can't get flight from California to Europe on those airlines.

Posted by
635 posts

I've had excellent service in recent years on SAS, LH, BA and Aer Lingus. The US carriers (UA, DL, USAirways) have been for the most part adequate in that regard.

But as a pilot and former flight instructor myself I come to the question from a different angle.

I much prefer to fly in an airliner with a North American, British, Irish, Australian or New Zealander flight crew. No, it's not a racial or cultural issue. It's that these countries have a functioning general aviation industry. Young people who want to be pilots, because they passionately love to fly, come to the airlines with hundreds or even sometimes thousands of hours of flying real airplanes in real weather and air traffic control environments. Maybe they have worked as instructors at the local flight school, or towed gliders, or just rented airplanes and flew around on their own dime. There is no substitute for that experience. Pilot prospects from other parts of the world, where private flying is prohibitively expensive and/or oppressively regulated, do not have that opportunity. They are often hired with little or no previous flying experience, and given relatively limited, fast-track training, geared to the specific airline's equipment and operations.

Recent events involving airliners from Europe, the Middle East and Asia underscore the point.

Every year I go camping in the backcountry of Idaho with airline pilot friends. On their holiday they love nothing more than to fly their own 60-year-old, fabric-covered, 160-hp airplanes into remote airstrips barely three football fields long in deep mountain canyons. I'd ride confidently anywhere in any airplane these guys are flying. A 600-hour equipment operator trained in simulators, not so much.

Next time you drive by your community airport and see the Cessnas, Pipers and such parked outside, tip your cap. Those little airplanes make the big airplanes safer.

So given the choice, despite the foreign airlines' generally better cabin service, I prefer the North American carriers.

Posted by
2762 posts

Or---by the same reasoning--- British, Australian, Kiwi, or Irish?

Posted by
3847 posts

We used Alitalia in 2008 for a flight from London to Rome - no issues at all. We even got a complimentary snack for the short flight, and if memory serves we had lots of leg room as we ended up by the emergency exit (it was a smaller plane). We usually use British Airways for inter-Europe flights as the prices are generally good and they have generous carry on allowances. (I'm not messing with Ryanair and their additional fees crap). I will say that is one thing I like about the European airlines (well, BA anyways) - even on flights that are about 3 hrs long, we always got a free snack. When we flew to San Fran (via Toronto) w/Air Canada, we had to pay for snacks if we wanted one.

The issues I have heard with Air Canada Rouge is unprofessional flight attendants (but this was when Rouge was first starting out so perhaps they were 'green')...uncomfortable seats; there may have been people complaining about nickel and diming (eg - you have to pay for pillow/blanket/snack - but I could be confusing with another airline). Again, thousands of people fly AC Rouge everyday I'm sure, but people are more likely to leave negative reviews - because we all like to complain, right? A coworker of my husband used them to fly Toronto to Venice and he said 'never again'.

Hubby and I always fly 'regular' Air Canada overseas and have nothing but good things to say (other than when we had a cancelled flight to Toronto and it was 8 hours before we were able to get a seat on another plane - Halifax airport is really boring after about 30 min. Brutal). When we do use them to overseas, you get free pillow/blanket, a meal and a snack and lots of beverage cart run thrus.

Posted by
31076 posts

steve,

It would help to have some idea where you're flying from?

I've had numerous flights with Air Canada over a period of many years, and the service has been good for the most part (some delays were beyond their control). I've always flown Economy (aka "sardine class") since I can't afford Business Class. The seats have been reasonably comfortable, the meals not too bad and the flight crews have been good. I will definitely book again with Air Canada for future trips.

However, I'd suggest "caution" in booking with Air Canada Rouge at the moment, as that's a newer low cost option and I'm not sure they've got the bugs worked out yet. I might be willing to tolerate uncomfortable seats, mediocre food, inexperienced flight crews and no entertainment on short hops (except at extra cost), but there's NO WAY I'm sitting in a metal tube for 10 hours under those conditions!

I've also been watching the reviews for Rouge, and they haven't been good so far. I spoke with a group of people from the west coast that had flown with Rouge to Europe last September, and they described it as the worst flight experience they've ever had! Perhaps Rouge will get their act sorted eventually, or maybe not? In the meantime, if at all possible I will avoid them and use one of their competitors.

Posted by
11983 posts

What Jeff of Vancouver (WA) writes is mostly based on cultural biases not real data, proving that having a flying license does not prevent people from telling nonsense.

First of all no matter which airline you choose, pilots on wide body planes that fly across the Atlantic will have many thousands of flying hours under their belt, many over 10,000 in fact.

Second of all if you base your choice on real factual safety data, you discover that of the top airlines ranked by safety, Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services, British, and New Zealand certainly qualify to be on the top 10, however none of the U.S. based airlines do, while Lufthansa (the owner of Germanwings) does.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/06/intl_travel/world-safest-airlines/

Posted by
635 posts

Airlines -- all airlines -- are extremely safe. Reliance upon CNN for aviation information is dangerous. Statistics such as in that article are so oversimplified as to be useless in a discussion about the training and experience of flight crews. For an article discussing real-world aviation safety issues instead of mainstream media "Top-Ten List" pablum, try this.

Flight instructors know that there is a difference between flying 10,000 widely varied hours on the one hand, and flying the same hour 10,000 times on the other. Pilots in North America, Britain, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand (I should probably add South Africa as well) have a greater opportunity for a wider range of aviation experience. That is fact, not cultural bias. That's why Lufthansa, JAL and others send new hires to the US for basic training.

Entry-level general aviation (the little airplanes owned by individuals and clubs, not just corporate jets) does exist in many other countries, especially in Europe, but with varying degrees of high cost and regulation. To the extent that flying is inaccessible to prospective pilots because of cost, regulation, bureaucracy, etc., young people are deprived of broader experience that could only benefit them in an airline career later on. Even China is actively developing a general aviation industry and culture -- they recognize its importance to commercial aviation and to the economy as a whole.

It was basic airmanship that saved the Gimli Glider. Had it not been for basic stick-and-rudder, seat-of-the-pants flying, there would have been no Miracle on The Hudson. Experienced and enthusiastic general aviation pilots were in both. On the other hand, Asiana 214 and AF 447 were lost due to failures of basic airmanship. Those crews were highly experienced systems managers but could not transition to being pilots when the need arose.

Posted by
11983 posts

Ok I get it. You need to be American or at least from an English speaking country to be a good pilot.

Are Canadian pilots just as good if they are from Quebec?

Posted by
635 posts

I said nothing of the sort.

But help me understand your objection, because we're really not at cross purposes here.

Are you saying (1) that a broader, more varied flying experience is not beneficial to an airline pilot? Or (2) that pilots, regardless of country, have equal access to that broader experience? If either one, how so?

Posted by
2762 posts

Interesting. That article makes some good points, especially on p2F ("pay to fly), but offers no data---just opinion.

Where is the JAL pilot training center in the US now? They used to train on 747's in the eastern Washington desert, but closed that facility in 2008. It was weird to see those jumbo jets coming in for a landing when driving I-90 in the middle of nowhere.

Is it possible that airlines in countries with high population density (Germany, Japan, etc.) send pilots to the USbto train because of the wide-open spaces? The Lufthansa training center isin Arizona----and was attended by the GermanWings pilot. The failure there was oversight/fitness screening, not training.

Posted by
635 posts

JAL had a training center in Napa, California (flying Beech Bonanzas, as LH does in Arizona), but I read that closed in the last couple of years. Not sure if they have a different location now or if they've outsourced. There are dozens of contract schools around the country that work with foreign carriers.

Lower population density is helpful, but the main reason they're here is much lower fuel and operation cost and more reasonable airspace regulation. That's the point -- entry-level flying is more accessible here, for everybody.

The failure there was oversight/fitness screening, not training.

I understand what you're saying, but in the real world those concepts don't exist in separate vacuums. The guy had only 600-something hours, and much less than that when he hired on. He would not have been qualified for that job under current FAA rules with less than 1500 hours -- a much greater likelihood that someone would have noticed something squirrelly about him along the way.

It's not economically feasible for an airline to give an applicant 1500 hours of non-revenue training. Other than coming from the military, the only way a prospective airline pilot can build those hours is in general aviation.

Posted by
11983 posts

I don't doubt that most European pilots come to American schools. Most of them do. I happen to have met many Italians who went to those schools here in Calif and now in my circle of Italian friends I have several pilots. Some have stayed and work for United and Delta. Others are back in Italy and some we are still in contact with work for Alitalia. I asked all of them why they came to US schools. The answer was invariably lower cost to attend. Now what you say might have some validity for North America due to history, aviation culture, open space and low fuel cost. But Ireland? Are you telling me that a country that before the 1980's was one the poorest in Western Europe had more opportunities for aspiring pilots than richer France or Germany? Sorry my friend. You would need to come up with some serious data to back up your claim and convince me that yours is not simply a cultural linguistic bias.

Posted by
635 posts

Are you telling me that a country that before the 1980's was one the poorest in Western Europe had more opportunities for aspiring pilots than richer France or Germany?

I'm not talking about macroeconomics or socioeconomic mobility. I'm talking about the cost and legal barriers of flying, period. Do you not agree that fuel prices, taxes, landing fees, cost of maintenance, airspace restrictions and other government regulations vary from country to country? Historically, to climb into a light airplane and fly around for a couple of hours, let alone get a pilot's license, has been (relatively) less expensive and less bureaucratically burdensome in England and Ireland than it was in many other European countries. Such a thing would be impossible, even unthinkable, in certain other parts of the world. I wish that weren't true, but it is. And things are rapidly getting worse even in Britain see article here.

An Irish pilot recently posted on a message board, "It probably cost the guts of €10k to learn to fly in Ireland. The quickest and less expensive way to get a private licence is to go to America. There is no such word as cheap in aviation. But for that you need the money up front and the time to spend in America."

What percentage of active North American airline pilots do you think broaden their experience by flying their own (or flying club) airplanes in their spare time, or have logged at least 1,000 hours outside their company's training and line flying? British? Italian? Korean? If it's equal across the board and around the world (I wish it were), then I retract my original premise.

Posted by
2762 posts

How relevant is time spent as a private pilot flying a single-engine Cessna to flying a Boeing 767?

I have reading Flyertalk that Lufthansa and British Airways have the best mechanics. Seems like that is important too.

Posted by
222 posts

Jeff, I loved your post! I have a 20 year old grandson who has wanted to be a pilot since he "marshaled in" planes watching Top Gun when he was about 4 years old. He is now a sophomore in college where he is working on a degree in aviation. He has his commercial license and works part time at a pilot training company part time where he gets a discount on flight time. His mom is a flight attendant so he has stand-by privileges which he uses regularly - sometimes just to be on a plane - out and back to wherever. I am going to show him your post! Thanks for your perspective.

Barb

Posted by
693 posts

Roberto. As an Australian, I must point out there is no 'u' in Qantas.

Posted by
11983 posts

Thanks mph.
Removed the 'u' and replaced with: "Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services"

Posted by
635 posts

Sasha, that’s an excellent question. Rather than answer it myself (I’ve not flown anything larger than a 35-seat DC-3), I forwarded your question to some airline pilot friends who fly top-of-the-line equipment for major international airlines. Here’s one response:

“My general aviation stick-and-rudder background is a huge plus tasking through required airmanship duties at work. The reverse is not applicable. For example, Airbus training material tells us, ’Pilot inputs on the rudder pedals are not required.’ Airbus says it's not required to longitudinally align the aircraft with the centerline (using the rudder) prior to touchdown in a crosswind. The transport jets (especially the heavies) are certified to take side loads. But passengers can feel it and don’t like it. Any dolt can touch down in a 20° crab, but it sure won’t happen when I'm the pilot flying. ...

Here's another:

"I have flown GA off/on since high school, most of my flying has been in the military, now I fly 757/767s. ... I believe it's more about your approach to flying - if you are that over-achieving guy when you don't have to be (in the Cessna), you'll pick up things you never would have by just mailing it in while you are building time. Flying IFR in GA definitely teaches people to have a second and third (maybe fourth?) gameplan - if that's the way you approach aviation you are ahead of most."

And another:

"The way it works in the US at least helps to filter out those who are not absolutely committed to getting a job in the cockpit. Flying in Germany is a.) not very common and b.) very expensive. I therefore think that the rocky path into a cockpit, through GA, indeed reduces the risk that people end up in an airliner, who don't belong there. Also, the skills and experiences one has acquired in a Cessna 152 never hurt."

Other respondents simply said, "Google 'Gimli Glider.'" In 1983 a ground crew error caused an Air Canada Boeing 767 to run out of fuel over the Canadian prairie. The captain, an experienced general aviation pilot, looked for a place to land his 120-ton glider. A large abandoned airfield at Gimli, Manitoba, was close -- but too close. Using "normal" technique per airline training the aircraft would have overshot the runway by a considerable distance, with the loss of the aircraft and all aboard. Instead, the captain's "little-airplane" reflexes kicked in and he put the airplane into a sideslip -- a maneuver used in the most basic of lightplanes, but never in large airliners, to make the airplane fly slightly sideways and thereby lose altitude more quickly without gaining unwanted speed. The 767 landed on the abandoned airfield with minimal damage and nary a scratch to anyone on board.

That, friends, is a pilot. That is in stark contrast to the 12,000-hour systems manager who hand-flew a perfectly-functioning B-777 into a San Francisco seawall on a calm, clear day a couple of years ago. Said one Airbus captain, "Every time I cross the threshold of the 28's @ KSFO my BP rises a few points when I think of the stupidity and tragedy that occurred that day with OZ 214. It still totally blows my mind."

Then there was the A-330 crew (AF447) who could not comprehend that their aircraft was in an aerodynamic stall -- because their training told them that the computers wouldn't let it stall. They, and the computers, were wrong. The recovery procedure might be different in a jet (though the need to get the bleeping nose down NOW is universal, and they didn't do it), but an experienced lightplane pilot would certainly have recognized the stall.

Posted by
31076 posts

Regarding the Gimli Glider, as I recall Capt. Pearson had also been an Air Cadet and was trained in Gliders, and I think his experience there was also a big help.

If anyone is interested in having a look at the Mayday re-enactment of that incident, THIS is the video. That particular aircraft is now sitting in the desert in Arizona, and is for sale.