Sunday, December 28, 2014

Airline Ratings: The Viewpoints of a Somewhat Frequent Flier

Hey Everyone!

Yes, it's been an extremely long time since I wrote a blog, and there are many reasons why I have not written, which include:

1.  Teaching wild fourth grade squirrels.
2.  Being enslaved every Sunday night to the NFL game package and playing fantasy football.  I'm still bitter I lost in the semi-finals because of what I call 'Buffalo sports' syndrome, where you find a way to lose even though you're supposed to win.
3.  Introducing George to American culture specialties such as Oprah, Hoarders, and Beyond Scared Straight.
4.  Watching too much stuff on Netflix and Amazon Prime.
5.  Finding other masterful ways to waste time as only a true slacker could.

Since I have over TWO WEEKS off for the Christmas and New Year's holidays and I have a staycation here in Sofia, there is no excuse not to write a blog or two this week to end 2014, and to start 2015.  In fact, there may be 2-3 blogs, if I'm brave enough to publish the U.S. Consulate and how to improve the American Citizen Services here in Sofia.

Having traveled a decent amount each year, I have used a lot of airlines, so why not rate them during my long breaks.  As one friend puts it, we're all cattle when flying in economy, so I look for certain things when flying cattle class on airlines.  When I travel, I look for how much hassle there is flying the airlines, quality of food, entertainment on long flights, and if flights get cancelled or diverted.  American carriers (Delta, American, United) are not rated very highly.  In fact, I now avoid American carriers like the plague when I fly back to the U.S. every summer.  Every spring, I search religiously to find flights to the United States not run by Delta, United, or American, because I find the companies themselves rather scummy towards how they treat their staff and clients.  I fly them in the United States because I must.

Turkish Airlines(8 out of 10):  

Love them, despite all the cheesy Kobe Bryant and Lionel Messi commercials.  They have great flights with great service.  Flew them to Uzbekistan this past summer, and to Jordan.  The pluses of Turkish Air is that they pretty much fly anywhere in the world, give you decent food on flights, and provide good entertainment on longer flights.  Their airport is big, but it's not too troublesome to transfer through most of the time.  For Americans, you do not need a visa if you're transferring in the airport.  There is also a hotel where you can sleep off hours, but the only downside is taking flights during the middle of the night to reach places where you arrive at 3 A.M.

Bulgaria Air (9 out of 10):  

What????  Bulgaria Air has a 9 out of 10 score?  I'm not trying to be biased, but they're a really great airline in terms of reliability and getting you places, without charging you too much money.  Bulgaria Air provides decent direct flights throughout Europe, and for reasonable prices.  I love how I am allowed to carry 30 kilograms of luggage.  Last year, I found decent last minute tickets which allowed George and I to see Paul in Vienna, without paying tons of money.  They're not the fancy airline, but they never proclaim themselves to be fancy.  You receive a simple sandwich, water, and beverage of your choice on any of their flights.  The planes are new, and you can find a cheap flight comparable to Wizz Air if you know where you're going ahead of time.  Sometimes, it's cheaper to do Bulgaria Air than Wizz Air or Easy Jet.  This summer, we got upgraded to business class from Malaga to Sofia, where I had unlimited wine on the three hour flight.  It's too bad they don't fly direct to New York or Chicago, because I would brave JFK just to fly them direct to the United States.

Austrian Airlines(7.5 out of 10):  
Like the airline a lot, but dislike transferring in Vienna when there is a short connection time and you're at C/D and have to go to F or G.  On a cross-continental flight, there is great food and an awesome entertainment center for you to use.  However, the Vienna airport is a huge pain to make a transfer.  Why?  They have a lot of unnecessary security checks and sometimes you need to go through a security check twice to get to your flight, which is really stupid when you've been flying and already been screened.  Once, I get, but twice is ridiculous.  It's almost as if they think they're passengers take bomb making classes in the airport kiosks.

There is also a really long path to transfer from C/D to G areas in the Vienna airport, and you feel like cattle if you're going to Eastern Europe.  And the C gate area is pretty much the worst to get stuck in during a long layover.  There isn't much there, and thank god there's free wi fii.  This August, there were 30 flights leaving for the C gate within a two hour period, and we had to wait in the security checkpoint for over an hour.  This was the second security checkpoint for me, as Vienna's airport isn't setup well if you transfer to a non-schengen zone destination.  Then, the only area that seems friendly is the F and duty free area, and you might not necessarily get to those areas if you have a layover there.  The F and G areas have nice areas with free wi-fii though, which is nice for a layover.  The C area of the airport is just dreadful, and there's literally nothing there if you've got 3-4 hours to kill.  If it were not for the free wi-fii, one might have found

Lufthansa:  (7 out of 10):  
Really like the airline, and the airports in Munich and Frankfurt are much more sensible than Vienna.  Lufthansa has decent food and great entertainment on cross-continental flights.  Plus, the seats are usually comfortable for a short guy.  Overall, a pretty solid airline, but no free wifii at the airports brings down the score a bit, as well as the time it takes in Frankfurt to get through the airport.

Qatar Airways (9 out of 10)

I love Qatar Airways.  I have only flown them once going to Thailand, but economy felt more like business class on the flight from Doha to Bangkok.  There was more room in the seats, and the entertainment selection was incredible.  The food was a proper meal, and they had a pretty efficient way of handling transfers.  Even on the short hop from Sofia to Bucharest, we got a sandwich.  Granted, they can do this because they have free jet fuel supported by the government, but they treat you with style.  So want to try and fly to DC for business class with them.   I almost wanted to rate them a 10, but I've only flown them once, but right now the cheapest flight from Sofia to Washington for George and I is via Doha, so we might be coming to D.C. via Doha next summer.  :)

Air France (6 out of 10):  
Air France isn't that bad, even though the French go on strike twice a month.  Flying into Paris is a nightmare for a connecting flight, which totally knocks down their score.  When they're not on strike, they seem incapable of transferring passengers efficiently on trans-continental flights.  Airports I avoid at all costs are London Heathrow, Paris, and JFK.

One time I flew into Paris with a very long layover, and there were major delays on transfers causing the place where I was transferring to be congested and be standing room only.  They failed to stop the escalator, or get buses running.  The best part is that they only had buses transferring to Terminal 1, not Terminal 2, and half the people didn't understand the petite woman speaking Terminal One in French.  The poor petite woman stood no chance at the foreigner's ability to completely ignore French, and actually caused more chaos as she kept shouting Terminal Un.  Naturally, this led to a lot of church giggling from me as some people missed flights simply because they didn't know the number one in French.

British Airways (6 out of 10):  
I have not flown British Air in almost 10 years, but they're decent.  The only problem is flying into Heathrow, which I did once when they were doing a luggage strike.  It's pretty much a nightmare and there's nothing nice about it, and they're never prepared for winter and acted shocked when they get any amount of snowfall, even though they tell you they're prepared.  Heathrow is worse than dealing with Southern states, because at least you know they're not prepared for snow, whereas Heathrow will show you all the equipment they've got, and then don't seem to know how to use it.

United Airlines (3.5  out of 10):  
To me, United is like the best of the worst in America, but it's rather a toss up.  I am sucker for the Gershwin music they played on all their commercials.  None of the American carriers really are that good, except for Southwest or Airtran.  I fly United because I have to get to Buffalo in the summer, and they're a tad better than flying Delta.  They're not the most organized, and I've had to wait in Buffalo an extra day two out of the past four years for dubious reasons.  However, they're easier to deal when re-booking a flight than Delta.

Delta Airlines (1 out of 10):
 Pretty much, I would only fly Delta if I absolutely have to, and they remind of of Carol from Little Britain.  The computer says no, the late flight attendants say no, the food says no, and the reasons for delayed flights say no.  Their flights across the pond or to South America have been absolutely terrible, and the customer service is just plain awful.  The food on transcontinental flights is unappetizing and the fake plastic food might be a better choice.  I feel like Delta and American Airlines have a competition to see which airline could be worse, although I haven't flown on American in ages.

Uzbekistan Airways (5 out of 10):
 I only flew them once from Bukhara to Tashkent, and they were nice to me even though I was an idiot and lost my boarding pass in the airport.  Sure, the seat moved around, but I had a nice nap on the short flight I took with them.  They served you drinks, were nice to you, and it was easy to get baggage.  This easily catapults them above Delta, American, and United Airlines

Southwest Airlines (7 out of 10):  
I flew Southwest a lot traveling between BWI and Buffalo, and a few other flights.  It may be a low cost airline, but it is nothing like a Ryan Air or Wizz Air.  You know what you are getting with Southwest, and the rules are the rules.  Southwest staff have always been great, and try to instill humor, especially when there is bad weather.  I remember Southwest as being who work there have always been great.

Wizz Air (4.5 out of 10):  

Wizz Air is the low-cost airline which serves most of Eastern Europe with cheaper flights throughout Europe.  As long as you follow their rules, you're fine.  Wizz is not as cruel as Ryan Air, but you need to follow the rules.  At times, you can get a cheaper flight to places, but sometimes you can't so you really need to pay attention to baggage fees, seating fees, and whatever fee you want.  For recent history, I've had cheaper flights on Bulgaria Air than on Wizz Air for the destinations I've gone to, but that's not always the case.  There is an optional fee for more legroom and priority boarding, which is nice for a longer flight, because they do cram people in there and seats are cramped.

The score becomes a 4.5 as there is no A, B, or C boarding like you have on Southwest.  And when you're on a flight to Bulgaria, this brings out the worst in people, as the boarding of a Wizz Air plane becomes a Mad Max movie.  There are times I wonder if Wizz overbooks the flights and only the strongest or smartest get to board the plane to Sofia, while the others are left to wait for a goat cart to take them home.  No Bulgarian dares to buy any food on the plane(those who buy are glared at with contempt), and sometimes toilet paper is a privilege, not a guarantee.  Normally polite people become ruthless to scramble for the one spot on the plane where they think is best.  On a flight to Barcelona to Sofia, I somehow got there early and had a lot of time to kill, so I squatted my place in line to be one of the first five people.  When boarding, I got glared at by every unsympathetic person as I let a mother and her 2 year old child into line.  I growled back at the line to stop being heartless, and they begrudgingly allowed the woman to get on the plane.   Humanity was restored for a brief moment, before descending into apocolyptic hysteria to board the plane once I entered the line.

Iberia Air  (4 out of 10):  
I have only flown them once, and it seemed like the most disorganized airline ever.  Boarding was a disaster in Madrid, and staff were scrambling around trying to get the plane.  They let everyone on board at once, because the woman at the gate spoke so rapidly no one understood her in English or Spanish.  While we got there in one piece, the thing that stunk is that EVERYTHING cost money on the flight, even a glass of water.  Good thing we brought water onto the plane and it was only a short flight, as we weren't expecting Ryan Air of Wizz Air food policies.  To me, Iberia stays in business simply because it's in Spain, and they're the only game in town flying between cities in Spain.

Lot Airlines:  (6 out of 10):  

If you're going to Warsaw, LOT has pretty decent service.   Easy airport to transfer into, and probably the smallest airport to have flights to the U.S. and Canada.  While LOT has a menu of food in which you must pay, they do offer you water and a wafer on short flights, and the food prices are reasonable and not inflated.

Thanks for those who really wanted to geek out on airline ratings.  Hopefully, this will get me tons of press and business class upgrades for Qatar and Bulgaria Air, but all it will probably get is grief from the American airlines I rated poorly.