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Does the airline matter?

Hello - we're booking flights for our trip in October (I know, it's a little late), flying open-jaw LAX-Rome and Munich-LAX. Lowest fares are USAir but we've never liked them. Question: does it make a difference whether we book with United/AA/Continental vs. BA/Lufthansa? The int'l airlines are a little bit more expensive but on transpacific flights, the service has ALWAYS been better with non-American airlines. Air Canada also has several options but we've never had any experience w/them. Any and all advice welcome - thanks!
- Christine

Posted by
18384 posts

I flew USAir to Munich in 2007. As soon as we took off, they came around selling earphones (free on Lufthansa). At dinner they sold the wine (complementary on Lufthansa). Before we landed in Munich, we got a greasy cake donut! Lufthansa gave us a much more substantial breakfast.

Posted by
83 posts

Yuo will find people who have had good or bad experiences with any airline. I personally will never fly American again and prefer KLM. I am not loyal though... I generally pick whatever price and schedule works best for me.

Posted by
211 posts

Two options for trying to answer your questions A) to figure out which planes you will be flying on with each airline you have questions about, and then check them out at seatguru.com and look at what the seat layout looks like, what type of in flight entertainment there is etc.

You can also check out a new website insidetrip.com, they don't have a ton of information on international carriers yet, but it could be useful. It is an expedia like search finder, but it gives each flight option a points rating out of 100, factoring in length of flight, connection times, how comfy the seats are, how on time that flight ususally is etc.

I fly often with Air Canada, I like them a lot, they have recently reno'ed their fleet, and now they all have in-seat tv's, which are key for me. Also if you get to fly business class, the majority of their long haul planes have the pods that turn into beds, much more comfortable than a normal seat for long flights.

Posted by
1401 posts

Does the airline matter? It depends.

Which of the following, if any, do you care about:

  • frequent flyer miles

  • connecting time and routes

  • Service (food, IFE, seat)

  • price

Depending on your answers to the above, you can narrow your choices.

For example, I have status with United so I like to limit my choices to Star alliance carriers to get the miles, though if I find a ridiculously cheap fare on a different airline this goes out the window. If flying economy, I try and get United for the hop across the pond since I can get into Economy plus (more legroom) for free. The downside is that the IFE isn't great on the older plans and the food is mediocre.

Of the airlines you mentioned, here are some things to be aware of:

BA - they charge for seat assignments which could add upto $90 per ticket if you want to get this ahead of time. Also, will have to go through LHR.

LH - cramped seating in coach though the food is good and the wine is free

AC - good IFE but I have experienced very poor service from them (ground, phone and in the air) though other folks have had good service

AA - normal US carrier - may have to connect either in Madrid (IB) or London (BA) (I can't remember if the FCO flight is year round or just summer).

IFE = Inflight Entertainment

Posted by
42 posts

Thanks for all the good info! Our main concern is no-hassle and good service - this is our honeymoon, so the less headache the better. We just didn't have a good sense for the international carriers.

Any thoughts on Air France? They have good prices, but they seem to have had a bunch of "incidents" lately...

Posted by
18384 posts

As for USAir's "low" prices, they do not include tax, fees, and whatever else their accountants figure out is extra.

I just got a "low fare" announcement from Tavelocity, advertising $447+ RT airfare to Frankfurt on USAir. When I selected flights, the price was $748.40, over $300 more. Below the USAir flight, Lufthansa had a flight for $729, but when I selected it, the price was only $834.40. And that included Denver to Frankfurt non-stop.

So make sure you compare final prices, not advertised prices.

Posted by
4374 posts

I've never had a problem with AA, while Chad says he'll never use them again...and this proves his point - ask 10 people, get 10 different opinions! Maybe I've been very lucky, perhaps he's been very unlucky. It can be a crapshoot. My many experiences on AA - other that the usual too-tightly-packed seating - strictly enforced window shades down for the movie = sleepy time for me, good headrest TV/entertainment [movies, TV shows, documentaries, games, etc., for my above-mentioned 'sleepy time' :-( ], several music stations - bring your own earbuds/headphones (last flight didn't use 2-prong, but I bring the connector anyway...), free pillow and blanket, all the bottled water they could force on you (!) throughout the night, and the food was anywhere from good to bleh. No complaints. Well, for coach these days...And don't forget to pack your Happy Attitude whichever airline you choose; that makes a lot of difference!

I've recently flown Air France, Continental, AA, and BA - no difference in my experiences. (btw, if you choose AA, you'll get to try out BA because they'll code-share the MUC-LHR section)

If you don't have that FF miles albatross hanging around your neck (pauses to adjust albatross), then you want to balance a good price with as few as possible connections. If connections are necessary, pay close attention to the time allowed to connect -don't trust the computer to automatically give you enough of a time cushion between flights.

I wouldn't worry too much about 'incidents' in this class of carriers; a few years ago, AA was in the news alot, then it was Continental's turn.

From what I've read in the last few years, it appears that the wide gulf of quality between US and internat'l overseas flights is unfortunately narrowing. And not for the better. Unless you're flying First Class, it's no joyride either way.

Choose 1)price and 2)fewest # of REALISTIC connections.

And congratulations!

Posted by
2930 posts

A few years ago, a long time employee in the airline industry advised me that the best mechanics work directly for British Airways and Lufthansa, and he never flew any other airline if he had the choice. I'll go with the best mechanics anytime over and above any other criteria.

Posted by
13223 posts

Great post, Mary, especially your point about "ask 10 different people and you'll get 10 different opinion".

And to your 2 main criteria (price and fewest number of realistic connections), I'd add a thrid for those of us who fly from the west coast: preferably non-stop to Europe, and make a connection there to your final destination. 9Actually, from LAX it may be possible to get to Rome and back from Munich without connecting at all; I'm not clear on that).

The one airline I consistently see complaints against is USAir, which they aren't considering anyway.

I used to love SAS but the last time we flew them (before they dumped the Seattle run) the service was cursory and the food was barely edible. First time I've said that about a flight to Europe.

We now have a BA "albatross" (love that term) and I know a lot of people wrote them off during the recent strikes, but we had a great flight to and from zurich earlier this summer. Heathrow is, well, huge, but after the first time through the new T5 we got used to it. Basically, they don't post gates until it's time to head there---they apparently want everyone to hang around the shopping area and spend money.

So for the time being, we'll stick with BA, and I'll continue to recommend them. Love the 747's. They were also very good about notification/updates regarding any flight changes.

As for paying for advance seat selection---it's your choice. You can select seats for free when you check in 24 hours in advance of the flight, and it's highly unlikely that all "2 seats together" options would be gone. You can actually go in to "manage my booking" and see how the seats are filling, and decide if you want to pay, or not. I have found their website very user-friendly.

I'd love to fly Lufthansa sometime, as they have a Seattle run now, but they are always the most expensive from here.

Posted by
73 posts

I've found is does matter which airline. We traveled from Vancouver to Chicago to Munich last fall on United. It was probably the worst I'd been on in a while the seats we made for short haul US flights not overseas. The food was not great either. But returned on Lufthansa and it was great. We didn't cook on the flight the seats were great and the food was what I ordered,(gluten free). We have also traveled on Air Canada and it's not bad either.

Posted by
4374 posts

Ah, yes. Lola brings up a very good point. I would very much prefer to be 'stuck' in London after missing my flight to Rome, rather than stuck in Chicago. For example, AA will fly you non-stop to London, then you connect to Rome. If you prefer a different connection, you could fly LA > Chicago > Rome. If anything happens on your first leg, though, you are very likely spending the night in Chicago. Chicago may be great, but it ain't Rome.

Also, I want to be on as long a flight as possible - meaning, not cut into bitty pieces. I don't sleep well on planes, but having 10+ hours to try is better that having to connect every 3-4 hours. Unless That Crying Baby is on your long leg...

Posted by
951 posts

I flew USAir to London 5 years ago; had no complaints, I had all 3 seats in the middle isle to myself there and back. I flew USAir last year into Munich & out of Frankfurt; not one complaint from me. I dreaded that we would be late flying into Munich from Philly (had to catch early train to Vienna as soon as we landed or arrive way too late), but got there 45 min early. I found the food good; no greasy donut experience for me and my vegan meal was quite tasty. I feel that USair has the best in flight entertainment, where you can choose what movie you want to watch. My only complaint is that the flight attendants are a bit bitchy, but I guess you have to be when everyone feels so entitled to everything on a flight. So, everyone has different experiences. I always end up choosing the airline that is the cheapest, with convenient connections, with convenient landing times, with convenient carry-on rules (not flying on Alitalia any time soon with their 11 lb carry-on restriction). For me and my experiences, I think Continental has been the worse, followed by United (I think a toddler piloted the plane home from Paris). So far Delta and USAir have been my best transatlantic transport options.

Posted by
6025 posts

In the end, if the price is a significant difference, I go with the cheapest. Yes, there are some service differences, but the biggest issues seem to be more random than systemic, so I will deal with minor nits to save a hundred dollars or more.

Posted by
1315 posts

Yep, everyone's got a preference and a story. Besides USAir, Alitalia gets horrible horrible press, but I had less problems flying them than I did the usually well-regarded KLM. This may be relevant to you, as Alitalia is starting up an LAX-Rome direct flight, although I unfortunately can't remember when.

The layover airports can make a difference, both in terms of ease of getting around the airport and how it affects your flight. I prefer a direct flight to Europe from Seattle, as there are many many more flights from different points in Europe so I have more options if something goes awry. The first time I ever went to Europe we connected through Chicago and the first flight was delayed so that we missed our connection. The next flight didn't leave until 5pm the following day, costing us a full day of our European vacation.

Posted by
1681 posts

Virgin Atlantic's premium economy flight to LHR is OK. Decent food, reasonable amount of room. The other flights have all been cramped and the food makes MacDonald's look gourmet.

WARNING: Never, ever, ever, ever book United flight 915 from CDG to SFO. You get 70 minutes at Dulles to deplane from the 777, get your luggage (having a checked bag did not affect the time frame), go through immigration, walk to a different gate, and get on a cramped one-aisle plane. This is simply listed when you are buying as a "change of gauge." The only reason the connection worked for us is because leg one was twenty minutes early.

Posted by
110 posts

IMO, it does make a difference which airline you fly.
I've flown all the airlines you mention, here's my opinion.

AA - since I get great perks from them because of elite FF status I really can't compare them fairly to the other airlines, and part of the reason I keep flying them is to maintain my elite status.

UA - average US carrier, not significantly different than other US based carriers. Like all US carriers you have to pay extra for this and that, and those additional charges can add up quickly.

CO -considerably better than UA, probably better than AA without the elite status perks.

BA - flown them alot, had a mixture of good flights and bad flights, AA elite status is recognized by BA, so also get some perks when flying BA, would fly BA even without the perks. Food onboard is better than UA, AA, AC and CO.
However, remember, with BA you'd need to connect in LHR, if you at T5 that's alright, but T1 T2 and T3 are just awful, LHR isn't the best airport to connect through.

LH - Overall good service and meals, better than any of the other airlines I've written about. Lack of legroom onboard can be a problem especially if you are tall. FRA isn't a bad airport to connect and it's much more user friendly than alot of airports I've been to. Food is better than BA and all the other airlines I've mentioned.

AC - I avoid AC at all costs, if there's a longer, slower more expensive option I'll take that just to avoid AC. If your trip extends into early Nov, I've avoid AC just because of the snow storms and possible weather related delays when connecting via a Canadian airport.

AF - the pits, really! CDG is a nightmare, AF I've not flown recently, I flew them once and said I'd NEVER fly them again, I'd rather pick AC. I kid you not.

Not only is the airline important, the flight schedule and connecting airports are too, and since you can earn enough FF miles for a short haul ticket, consider which FF program is best for you.

Posted by
11450 posts

I'll fly whatever is cheapest ,,as long as its considered a safe airline. Its only one day. I can suck it up to save hundreds.

All airline food sucks, I accept that and pack my own goodies. I try and sleep on flights to Europe anyways so food is not a big deal to me.

I have flown to Europe on British Airways, Air Transat, Air Canada, Luthstanza, and Zoom( now defunct)

I have flown various other airlines to LAX and Hawaii , Miami etc. and still I just go for cheapest flight,, with a few exceptions( I won't fly to Miami via three other stops,, no matter how cheap< LOL )

Posted by
4374 posts

The problem with CDG is the constant construction going on, here or there. Not a lot of effort is made in temporary signage...and the employees seem to know as much as you do. Now, the signs ARE great if they are currently true. Sadly, CDG doesn't have those 'straw-hatted ambassadors' so prevalent in the USA airports, helping you find your way!

The place is HUGE, so it's an endurance trial for the best of us on no sleep; for slow walkers, etc., UGH. And that's with only a carry-on. Paris, of course, is a huge travel hub, so that front ticket area/pre-security area is an absolute zoo. Packed. If you're meek, good luck. I've never seen so many deer-in-headlight stares!

I strongly suggest studying the Paris airport website before going there. Print off anything you think might be helpful.

Other than that, I like it! ;-) It's Paris!

Posted by
2193 posts

As an economy cabin flyer only, price is a significant factor for me. Still, I won’t simply fly with any old airline just to get the best fare available. I’ve flown all the major domestic airlines and have found them to be about the same. I found the service on BA to be indifferent and their 777s to be tattered and cramped (i.e. loose seal hanging from overhead bin, non-working video screen, no legroom, FAs just going through the motions). Icelandair has older 757s that look new, but their interiors have been completely updated & their service is excellent. Swiss is the best I’ve flown and is my number 1 choice for all future transatlantic, all other things being equal. Within reason, I’ll pay a little more to fly with Swiss if it makes sense for my itinerary. I’ll never fly on some airlines for a variety of reasons (i.e. poor reviews, safety concerns, strikes, etc.). Alitalia fits in this category for me.

Posted by
13223 posts

I keep reading comments about how awful CDG is. I've never flown into there. What i so awful about CDG? Does that apply when connecting there, or also to flights ending there? Thanks.

Posted by
11450 posts

Lola.. frankly I have no idea what all the whining is about CDG. I have flown in and out of it many times. There is good signage to taxi stands and Metro, and I find it no worse then any other airport. I admit it can be boring once in through security with only a few stores and places to eat in some terminals, but I don't really care too much about that sort of stuff.

I find once I arrive I am out fairly quickly.

I have not used it as a connecting airport so can't speak to that aspect. I do imagine it could be more challenging in that way as it has satellite buildings/terminals that you might have to get to , using their system of buses.

Posted by
42 posts

Everyone, thank you for all the good advice. Here's what I have learned in my booking process:
1. Plan early (i.e., even though we were exhausted after all the wedding stuff, we probably should've looked into plane tickets earlier than 2 months prior).
2. If you see a good fare with the times/connections you want, take it - because it may be gone the next time you look for it.
3. Love your overanalyzing husband even though he drove you half-crazy with the ticket buying process (although to be fair, I was an enabler)!

Posted by
13223 posts

Mary---love your attitude!

OK, it sounds doable. I guess if we can manage Heathrow without losing our sanity, we can manage CDG too.

Maybe we should start a thread on favorite airports. I love Zürich, where you are treated to the sounds of birdcalls, cowbells, and yodeling while you ride the transfer train.

Posted by
2193 posts

Zürich is an outstanding airport, and what’s better than the yodeling, the milk maid, and the cow is that it’s a hologram…very cool. As for other great airports, Munich is as easy, modern, and efficient as Zürich IMO. And FRA is about the same on a much larger scale…very easy. KEF in Reykjavik isn’t very modern or super new feeling like the others I mentioned, but it sure is easy…very small and easy to navigate. I could probably think of others I would put on my favorite list, but these come to mind right now.

Posted by
42 posts

Does anyone have any input on Delta? I'm flying with them for the first time this October from Tulsa to Paris(with one stop in MN). So I'm wondering how they are compared to other airlines.

Posted by
3332 posts

Re: Delta
I've flown Delta a lot, since 1967, because my now deceased parents moved to Miami; and Delta flew there non-stop from SFO. Joining their FF program motivated me to keep giving them my business. I've been pretty satisfied over the years, except for the time when they were on the verge of bankruptcy. The staff morale was low, and service showed it. I would not, however, choose them if another good line had a better schedule at a similar price. A significant drawback is that from here, most of their flights connect in Atlanta or JFK. I don't know about other departure points. Better to have the connection be in Europe.

Posted by
273 posts

I know Air France gets a lot of negative comments but I always fly them when I go to Paris as they have the best direct routes. I save my Amex miles and upgrade to business class where the food is actually very tasty. I found them very helpful at the gate when you have a tight connection going somewhere else in Europe.

Posted by
171 posts

I love Lufthansa, personally. I often fly with my dog in a carrier under the seat, and I usually go non-stop from Chicago. The flights are on-time, the food is good, and generous, the Airbus planes new and functional, and the flight attendants are very understanding about my dogs needs. I will never fly United again in my life-time, unless they offered a $50. flight to Frankfurt. Worst flight of my life!! Three hour delay before take-off because the plane was falling apart, the flight attendants were rude and impatient, and although I'd reserved an aisle seat and wasn't about to give it up, but I was nagged repeatedly to move to a less comfortable seat to accommodate a woman with a baby. I had booked my aisle seat to better take care of my dog, so it was important to me, and this confusion further delayed the flight. Once I said i didn't want to move they could've asked someone else, but they didn't. With airline prices what they are, I figured that I had taken the time to get what i needed, so why should i give it up? I will never fly on United again.

Posted by
1285 posts

I generally go with Delta, because they offer lots of flights and are the most convenient for me.

Posted by
18384 posts

"Better to have the connection be in Europe."

That's a question I have debated with myself (I usually lose the argument.)

If your connection in this country, there's often only one flight a day to your destination, so if your domestic flight is late, you're kind of out of luck. I've connected seven times in this country, two times in Detroit, once in Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Philly, and Newark, and never missed a connection. Almost did once in Detroit.

On the other hand, if you connect in Europe (I did only once, 4 hours in London), you do so when you are sleepy, jetlagged, and maybe don't understand the language, but there are a lot of connecting flights to where you are going.

Also, when flying to Europe, connection in the US usually means you arrive at your destination in the morning, while connecting in Europe, usually with a lengthy stopover, means getting to your destination in the afternoon.

Posted by
669 posts

I am with wray- for me, safety is my #1 priority (mechanics, airline safety, and the airplane record), followed by route and price. I flew Lufthansa last time, I am flying Icelandair in December. Lufthansa has a great record, as does Icelandair. Lufthansa was quite a bit more this time, and I am waiting to hear some more concrete results on the investigation of the AF A330 incident from last year (Lufthansa flies A330s from SEA to FRA). I have recently heard from someone that Ryan Air has a GREAT maintenance system. So, for whatever else they may do that may annoy people: they take care of their airplanes. : )

Posted by
5669 posts

I'm going to second Tina's comments 100% I too am an American Platinum flyer and the status can make life better. Most recently, it got me a free night at the Hilton in Chicago when weather (yes weather!) kept me from flying the last leg home from the UK. The woman in the Admiral's Club looked at where I'd flown from and looked at me and said, "you need a bed!" and booked me into the Hilton on American's dime. I think it helped that I wasn't whining. ; )

I've flown BA from Amsterdam through London City and had a great connection and great flights. I even had a hot breakfast on the London Edinburgh leg!

I had a terrible time a number of years ago with Air Canada and would not fly them again. I hope others chime in on Delta. I'd love to know more about their flights.

Pam

Posted by
4374 posts

I'd much rather have to 'lose' a day in Europe than in the USA...From the west coast it's a bigger gamble. It a year-round problem - if it isn't snow, it's a hurricane/tornado/thunderstorm, and the delay may not be due to the actual flight you're booked on, but the flight before yours on your aiplane. You usually get one or two shots getting over the pond, but once you're IN Europe there are so many more options - several airlines, trains, ferries, buses, walking. It's hard to walk to Munich from DFW.

I've never needed to connect in Europe, but just since a year ago there are so many fewer non-stop flights available. I use to be able to fly direct to most of the big cities; now, I can fly to London.

This poor body thinks it's all bad - I'm waiting for the teleporter...

Posted by
96 posts

For what it's worth, my family had a very bad experience with Delta last week on a trip from Seattle to Heathrow via Minneapolis. Our 9:30 pm flight from Minneapolis to London was cancelled, with the plane sitting at the gate loaded with everybody's luggage, because they did not have a flight crew available. Everyone had to spend the night in hotels in Minneapolis, without luggage (sleeping in our clothes, we'd ended up checking our baggage), and the flight didn't go out until 6 pm the following day. Lost an entire day of our trip. The Delta folks at Minneapolis were close to incompetent in the way they dealt with the whole thing. We'll never fly Delta again.

Posted by
4 posts

All of the above replies are very helpful. My two cents: Foreign airlines, by and large, have stuck to the traditional service you used to experience on US based carriers. What that means is that the food is a little better, the booze is free and the service in general is still a bit more customer-centric (as opposed to safety-centric). For that "experience" my favorite is Iberia. I have had good and bad experiences across the board on over 25 transatlantic flights, and my favorites to date are Iberia and Aer Lingus. Good luck!

Posted by
11 posts

Anybody here take the United Airlines flight from IAD to Rome and how about the Brussels to ORD flight back? Are these flights pretty decent. I got what I think is a really good deal for my flight. Eugene, OR to Rome then Brussels to Eugene, OR, I paid $1050. Was this a good deal? We leave August 12th and return on August 29th.