Which inter US airlines do you recommend?

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caravanman

Engineer
Joined
Mar 22, 2004
Messages
4,870
Location
Nottingham, England.
Hi Folks,

I am visiting the USA this September, and for the first time ever, I am thinking of incorporating some flights, rather than Amtrak rides only.

Is there anything to know, or to choose between the budget airlines? I am seeing options such as Spirit, Allegiance, Alaska, etc.

One tends to go for just lowest price at my end of the market, but is one carrier much less reliable, etc etc?

Thanks!

Ed.
 
I have decades of history with American, Southwest, United, and Delta. American and United are nothing special but they get the job done and Delta is step above IMO. Not amazing, just slightly better than the others with much faster internet. I had to stop flying Southwest when they moved to ULCC pitch which is too cramped for my knees with no way to ensure you'll get a bulkhead or exit row (due to open seating). As a tall person I always book the extra legroom seats or pick another flight/airline if unavailable. If you want to know more about a specific option just ask. I've heard good things about Alaska but I've only flown them a couple times due to limited service where I live. Heard good things about Jetblue as well but have never flown them. I've heard many stories about Spirit and Allegiant having the worst pitch and routinely ignoring airline regulations and passenger protections (such as leaving people stranded for days without alternative travel or a place to stay) since it's apparently cheaper for them to pay regulator fines and court fees instead. 🤷‍♂️
 
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They all have their challenges, but I've had pretty good luck with JetBlue the last few years. They have slightly more legroom in economy and you can upgrade to an "even more room" economy plus seat for an almost reasonable price. They also have good inflight entertainment and completely free wifi on most flights.
 
You can always check out some flight review channels. They do focus more on the experience of flights rather than overall reliability. I personally like Jeb Brooks, Paul Lucas, and Simply Aviation. Jeb Brooks has done many comparison videos of US airlines in the past, however they may be outdated now.
 
Alaska is not a budget carrier, and the largest budget carrier is Southwest Airlines. They must be booked at their own website, not on sites like Orbitz. I worry about the quality of their pilots and maintenance.
Southwest given their single choice of aircraft is the one I'd be least worried about.

Spirit and Allegiant both have very tight and fixed seats and I personally can't stand the fees, it rarely works out cheaper than southwest unless you only travel with a backpack.
 
All of the domestic airlines are bad, some just less than others. Spirit, Allegiant, and Frontier are our equivalent of Ryanair and EasyJet. They are the ”budget” airlines and sell unbundled fares. They also have a reputation for poor customer service and are the most likely to leave you stranded in the airport when a flight is cancelled. JetBlue and Alaska are niche airlines that primarily serve the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. They have comfortable planes and good customer service however if you are trying to fly in the middle of the country or to or from a small town they are useless. Finally there are the four major airlines: Southwest, American, Delta, and United. I personally despise United due to an incident years ago and will only fly them when my job requires it. American and Southwest are ok but both (along with United) fly the 737MAX which I refuse to step foot on. So when booking on those two I pay very close attention to the aircraft type. That leaves Delta which is my airline of choice and the best of the bad choices. They are relatively comfortable and on time and have adequate customer service.
One final thing, consumer protection in this country is much worse than it is in Europe. Airlines regularly cancel flights due to weather which means they don’t have to provide you hotels, food, or compensation. All they have to do is eventually get you to your destination or refund your money. I highly recommend buying travel insurance that includes trip delay protection to cover yourself. Sorry for the novel.
 
Really? I've never heard anything bad about Southwest's or Alaska's (or any main US Airline's) pilots.
Southwest has a number of safety violations but the number of serious incidents/accidents seems unremarkable relative to their fleet size and flight schedule. The US airlines I remember having serious safety issues were ValueJet (poor compliance and record keeping, later renamed to AirTran, and eventually absorbed into Southwest) and Northwest (after threatening/firing maintenance staff, later absorbed into Delta). Like you I have no memory of any pilot issues.

You can always check out some flight review channels. They do focus more on the experience of flights rather than overall reliability. I personally like Jeb Brooks, Paul Lucas, and Simply Aviation. Jeb Brooks has done many comparison videos of US airlines in the past, however they may be outdated now.
I wish Jeb Brooks' reviews had higher expectations because he tends to gloss over almost any problem. Paul Lucas is grounded enough to have both positive and negative reviews but it's not always clear why he picks one theme or conclusion over the other. Simply Aviation tends to release videos several months after the trip or they require exclusive focus because the review is text instead of narration. That being said they're all in my feed so I guess I like them enough to keep watching. I just wish they would review the actual airport instead of spending their time in unrelated airline lounges.
 
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Stay away from the real cheapies, Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier. The majors are all pretty similar in coach.
This is good advice. I wouldn't fly on a free ticket with any of these. Southwest can be hit or miss. I have lifetime status with two US domestic carriers - AA, which is not always great but seldom disappoints in my experience, and UA which is less great but fills some gaps in AA's schedule. I have had a few great flights on Delta, but have been stranded by them more times than all the others combined. Getting some money refunded when you lose two days of your trip is not really satisfying - especially when it happens more than once.
 
Naturally any flight with problems sucks no matter what airline.

I think the routes and cities served by different airlines could affect your choice, unless you intend to travel only the main routes between the biggest cities.
 
Google "fortress hub" to get an idea of how we're you're flying from makes a difference in which airline you might want to choose. For example, my home airport is Baltimore Washington International Airport, and if I want a direct domestic flight, in most cases its going to be on Southwest.

I flew Southwest last year, and moth my outbound and inbound flights were uneventful and more or less on time. They have open seating, kind of like a Northeast Regional, but if you can get a seat in Row 12, it's an overwing emergency exit seat, which means you have to be able and willing to help open the window in the case of an emergency. I usually pay for the "early bird check in" to ensure that my place in the boarding line is far enough front that I can snag a seat in Row 12.
 
Another factor are airport delays due to weather, high volume, or problems with air traffic controller staffing issues. For that reason you may want to avoid NYC airports.

On th east coast Philadelphia actually has local transit service, SEPTA, right to the terminal from Amtrak’s 30th st. station. Baltimore,BWI, seems to have a lot of lower cost flights including southwest, but does require a short shuttle ride from Amtrak’s station there. And finally, if you are heading southeast, Jet Blue has very cheap fares, including to Orlando from Washington Reagan airport (DCA). A short ride on the metro will take you to either Amtrak’s Alexandria or Union station.
 
I have only one experience with Spirit and the problem with all these VLCC's is they look really cheap but then they nickel and dime you for every little thing so by the time you pay for seat reservation, bags etc. you might as well have gone on one of the Big 3 and had better legroom.

JetBlue was OK the few times I flew it but I got annoyed the last time I booked with them as they kept cancelling the flight and putting me on a different flight and the second time they did this (for the same flight) I canceled it and went with Delta.

As far as the various YouTube reviews are concerned, they are great if you can find ones that are in coach and go between cities you actually travel from/to rather than say LAX to Bahrain in a fancy Business Class lie flat seat and a 3 course dinner. Those might be fun to watch but not useful to us peasants who want to fly coach Boston to Ft. Lauderdale.
 
Choices also vary by route, as often, an airline will fly certain routes with a regional affiliate rather than their own planes/crews. I see an awful lot of E-175 wearing Delta, United, and American colors
in NY. My sister just flew in from Phoenix a few weeks ago, using connecting one stops to save money. Phoenix to Columbus 737-800 CMH to LGA (Laguardia) Republic E-175 as American Eagle return was through Indianapolis and JFK to Ind was also E-175.

a reply from yesterday I forgot to post
 
Google "fortress hub" to get an idea of how we're you're flying from makes a difference in which airline you might want to choose. For example, my home airport is Baltimore Washington International Airport, and if I want a direct domestic flight, in most cases its going to be on Southwest.

I flew Southwest last year, and moth my outbound and inbound flights were uneventful and more or less on time. They have open seating, kind of like a Northeast Regional, but if you can get a seat in Row 12, it's an overwing emergency exit seat, which means you have to be able and willing to help open the window in the case of an emergency. I usually pay for the "early bird check in" to ensure that my place in the boarding line is far enough front that I can snag a seat in Row 12.
I should mention the the reason I try to snag a seat in row 12 is because the emergency exit seats have more legroom tha the seats in the other rows.
 
Jetblue is not super budget, but it's a comfortable ride. If they serve your destinations, it's worth a flight.

Spirit is surprisingly good for a budget carrier. The "big front seat" upgrade is pretty good! Imagine a slightly out of date first class seat with tons of room. It's almost as good as Amtrak coach seating.
 
In my opinion, airlines in North America fall into these 3 broad categories, ranked by the amount of misery you are likely to experience traveling with them from least to greatest:

1. Would be a poor airline on any other continent: Delta.
2. Distasteful but somewhat reliable: Air Canada, United, Southwest, Westjet
3. Avoid at all costs: Air Canada Rouge, American, Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant.

Keep in mind that "misery you are likely to experience" does not necessarily mean that misery is guaranteed- I have had perfectly acceptable experiences traveling with American, for example. The farther down the rankings you go, however, the greater a risk you are taking if something goes wrong.
 
I'd say that they can all have horrible meltdowns, and that strategy and flexibility will do more for you than choosing a specific airline.
  • If you're flying somewhere that's an airline's hub, that's probably good because you'll have more choices for non-stops. If it's between two hubs (i.e. ATL-MIA) pick the airline with the most flights because you'll have more choices if stuff breaks.
  • If you have to connect, leave more than 3h between flights. My ordeal in June was basically caused by a 2h delay.
  • Be flexible! If I'd demanded a flight directly to Miami I'd've spent two nights on the floor of the Denver airport instead of just one. I'm not happy about having to fly to the other side of the state and rent a car for a 2h drive but whatever, I got home.
  • Checking luggage? Put an AirTag in it. I'd've never seen some of my clothes again without it.
  • Leave at least 12h or a night between transportation providers, since they generally won't reciprocally cover tickets they didn't sell you.
  • Summer? Fly as early in the day as feasible, since afternoon storms are more common than morning storms.
Keep in mind that "misery you are likely to experience" does not necessarily mean that misery is guaranteed- I have had perfectly acceptable experiences traveling with American, for example. The farther down the rankings you go, however, the greater a risk you are taking if something goes wrong.
This is really it. The misery sticks out, while the routine or even pleasant flights generally don't. I'm flying American in a few weeks (between a current and former AA hub) and I had to stop and think about if I'd even flown them this year (May/June, February) because when all goes well it's a few hours playing on your tablet in a bad chair.
 
You are a seasoned traveler, It all depends on where and when you want to go and then, Plane or Train. Time counts and comfort costs money if that’s an issue. Safety is something you could base on statistics. I think one has to look hard to find an airline that’s not safety conscious. Weather is the main contributor for missed connection’s. Avoid the middle seat.
 
When I lived in Wyoming, I took a number of flights out of the airport in Riverton, a small town in west-central Wyoming. It was back in the late 60's and early 70's. Frontier Airlines was the only flight in and out of Riverton. Frontier was a good airline, at least back then, and one of the best airlines as far as safety is concerned, even though they often flew through inclement weather. One flight I remember was from Riverton to Billings, MT through terrible, snowy weather. I turned out to be a very smooth flight. I don't know what Fontier is like these days.

Back then, smaller airlines could often fly from small cities or towns to another small city or town without going through a "hub". As an example, if you want to fly, today, from Wenatchee, WA to Spokane, WA you have to fly Wenatchee to Seattle to Spokane. I think it's a good argument for a Cascade day train from Seattle to Spokane.
 

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