Air Travel Resume

This year, it will have been ten years since I first flew on an airplane for recreational travel purposes, a turning point in my life indeed.  I had always wanted to get on a plane and go somewhere but I never had the money, only enough to ride Greyhound and Peter Pan up and down the Northeast.  Once I got the money to take these trips, I have not turned back.

Here is a list of airlines I have flown over the past 10 years:

American Airlines/U.S. Airways

My first flight was with American Airlines, from JFK to LAX, round-trip.  Flight 1 and Flight 4.  It was during spring break of 2004, I had come across enough money to pay for a round trip and enough time to spend practically a week in California.  It was a Boeing 767-200, now approaching retirement and to be replaced with brand-new Airbus A321s coming in as we speak.  Didn’t know very much about airlines, but I knew that I wanted to experience take-offs and landings as well as being 35,000 feet above the clouds.

Aircraft I have flown with American:

  • Boeing 767
  • McDonnell Douglas MD-88
  • Boeing 737

JetBlue Airways

This is the first airline with which I signed up for a Rewards program.  Called True Blue, it allows you to earn points towards free flights.  The True Blue system was really cool in that your points were accumulate depending on the flight duration and points are doubled if you booked flights online.  Back in the old days, flights were either worth 2, 4, or 6 points (2 points for under 2 hour flights, 4 points for over 2 but below 4, 6 points for flights longer than 4 hours); these days, points are calculated based on how much you spend, 3 points for every dollar spent.  I love the 36 channels of DirecTV at each seat, relatively low fares versus the competition, the snacks made available during flight (most domestic carriers do not offer real food unless you pay for it), and very smooth comfortable planes manned by some of the best crew members in the business.  JetBlue keeps costs down by offering snacks instead of food, preparing the cabin while in flight so that passengers getting on do not have to wait too long after passengers get off to then board the plane, and by flying the same aircraft type (in recent years, two aircraft types).

Aircraft I have flown with JetBlue:

  • Airbus A320
  • Embraer 190

Southwest Airlines/ATA

Southwest is very interesting in that its boarding process at their gates is done on a first-come, first-serve basis.  When you book matters in terms of getting the lowest fares, but check-in order determines when you board the plane.  Fares are very low, among the lowest of the low-cost carriers in most US markets.  Snacks are served during flight just like the other low-cost carriers, but their planes are much more colorful than most, donning blue, red, and orange on their fleet.  Occasionally, there would be planes in special liveries to commemorate certain events or special interest groups, which makes for interesting planespotting (like railfanning but with planes).  Southwest keeps their fares low by flying to airports with lower rental and gate fees, flying relatively short flights, minimizing hub-and-spoke operations, and operating just one aircraft type.

I noted ATA because Southwest acquired what was left of ATA as well as their routes in order to consolidate with Southwest’s current operations.  ATA had similar aircraft and similar routes to Southwest in certain markets such as LGA to ORD.

Aircraft I have flown with Southwest:

  • Boeing 737

United Airlines/Continental Airlines

I have flown Continental and United both before and after the merger, and I preferred Continental due to their service and their nicer-looking aircraft, partially due to the Continental logo.  Blue is my favorite color.  I like that United kept the Continental logo, although United should have been the one to eliminate their name, not Continental, but it’s quite alright.

Aircraft I flown with United, Continental, and the new United (including regional carrier affiliates):

  • Boeing 737
  • Boeing 757
  • Airbus A320
  • Embraer 135
  • Embraer 145
  • Embraer 175
  • Bombardier/de Haviland Dash-8 Q400

Spirit Airlines

The nickel-and-dime airline of the United States.  No wonder the fares are so low, even beating out Southwest in most markets.  You may pay such little money for flights, but you get caught with fees for practically everything from checking in to booking over the phone instead of online, and for food and drink during the flight.  They do have the advantage of keeping costs down by flying one or two types of aircraft, which seems to be the low-cost airline model of reducing costs they can control, as opposed to fuel which they can’t control.

Aircraft I have flown with Spirit:

  • Airbus A319

Air Canada

I have seldom had a problem flying with the Canadians, whether it’s to western or eastern Canada, especially when you compare it to my experiences with the big name domestic carriers and somewhat with the low-cost carriers.  With Air Canada, you get treated with respect, they tend to your concerns, and they make you feel safe to fly with them.  Professional crew make for a very professional flight, I would certainly fly with Air Canada to test their international service outside of North America.

Aircraft I have flown with Air Canada:

  • Embraer 190
  • Airbus A319
  • Bombardier CRJ-100

WestJet

This is the JetBlue of Canada, in my honest opinion, as the staff professionalism and airline model very much mimic JetBlue in almost every way possible, except for their choice of aircraft, the Boeing 737 Next-Generation and the Bombardier/de Haviland Dash-8 Q400.  The 737s do most of their flights, while the Q400s are used on their WestJet Encore, a regional service in Western Canada.

Aircraft I have flown with WestJet:

  • Boeing 737NG

Air France

Had I just flown to Paris and went to London and back via the Eurostar, I would rate my Air France experience among my favorite in recent years due to the whole experience.  Flight safety, dinner service, and breakfast service announcements were in both English and French, much to my surprise.  We had complimentary food and drink, complimentary wine and cheese, and access to bottomless drinks after dinner service.  In-flight entertainment kept me quite busy, and there was a webcam system that allowed you to view the plane from the outside as it cruises in the air.  My London connecting flight was pretty much similar to my experiences in the United States with domestic carriers, though snacks were offered due to the short flight duration.  The JFK-CDG flights were Airbus A380 double-deckers, among the first delivered for Air France 4 years ago; the first A380s went to Singapore Airlines in 2007.

Aircraft I have flown with Air France:

  • Airbus A321
  • Airbus A380

Singapore Airlines

Flying with Singapore Airlines was quite the surprise, as I wouldn’t have expected the level of service that I have received from an airline based in Asia.  It reminded me of my Air France experience, but maybe a tad better.  Everything was in English, dinner and breakfast were served much like my Air France overnight flight several years ago, but before each meal, we were provided with hot towels to rinse our hands off prior to dining.  The drinks were bottomless after dinner service, and there was quite a lot of in-flight entertainment.  I flew in another A380 double-decker which was lit quite nicely and warmly, and the female flight attendants wore a rather unique uniform which seemed reminiscent of ancient Chinese or Japanese silk robes (with matching sandals, too) while the male flight attendants wore black suits.  The single most awarded airline in the world (at least 40 different awards over the course of a decade) is also the launch customer of the Airbus A380, and with the friendly staff, warm colors, and a great overall atmosphere, I am very pleasantly surprised and eager to fly to Singapore on a future flight.

Aircraft I have flown with Singapore Airlines:

  • Airbus A380

Norwegian Air Shuttle/Norwegian Airlines

Norwegian was another airline that exceeded my expectations, simply because I didn’t get the low-cost carrier experience I was used to with Southwest and JetBlue.  JetBlue, however, appears to have gone mainstream with their airfares in recent years, but their service hasn’t gone down, which is why I prefer flying with them even though their prices have gone up and they have cut some flights in favor of opening new markets.  I would say that Norwegian, ever growing and ever popular in Europe, is the JetBlue of Europe.  I say this because Norwegian started as a low-cost carrier and has ballooned in popularity by undercutting most of its larger competitors in most European markets, including British Airways, Lufthansa, and SAS/Scandinavian Airlines.  Norwegian is based in Oslo, but flies from Norway’s neighbors such as Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.  They have mainly brand-new Boeing products, including the 787 Dreamliner.  What a dream it was to fly this aircraft, with larger windows, much smoother takeoff and landing than with other aircraft, and meals and drinks on board that you can either pay for in advance or while in the air.  I opted for the meal in advance because I didn’t want to fly for 8 hours and not eat anything, especially if the airport didn’t have enough food choices beforehand.  I enjoyed the in-flight entertainment as well as the special windows that dim or brighten on command if you don’t want the sun in your eyes.  All in all, a great airline choice if I decide to fly to Europe again.

Aircraft I have flown with Norwegian:

  • Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner

Virgin America

Virgin America is a spinoff of Virgin Atlantic, which flies primarily from the U.S. to the U.K., and does mainly transcontinental (or “transcon”) flights and a few selected short-hops within the lower 48 states.  Their fleet consists of Airbus A320s of various years, with Wi-Fi, TVs at every seat much like JetBlue, and mood lighting, which changes the color of the cabin lighting according to the time of day, weather, or for any other reason.  Their aircraft mainly are lit with pink and purple lighting, although they can change to any color at any time.  Virgin America’s most popular flights include JFK to SFO, JFK to LAX, and SFO to LAS (Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport), with more city pairs in coming years.  I am a proud member of ELEVATE, their rewards program which allows you to earn points for each flight to redeem for future air travel, as well as earn points with numerous partners towards future travel.  ELEVATE also allows you to earn points from flying with all Virgin airlines (including Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia) and certain partner airlines (such as Singapore Airlines) to use towards free flights.  A winner in my book, if you ask me.

Aircraft I have flown with Virgin America:

  • Airbus A320

TAP Portugal

TAP Portugal is one of several European award-winning airlines with service mainly throughout continental Europe and limited long-distance flights to Africa and the United States.  They have a wide range of Airbus aircraft, from the smaller A319 narrow body to the larger A340 wide-body aircraft.  The aircraft that are used from Boston and New York to Lisbon are newly reconditioned Airbus A330s with updated wing technology, WiFi and in-flight entertainment at every seat, LED mood lighting similar to that used on Virgin airline brands, and newer, more comfortable seats.  They are partnered with jetBlue Airways through frequent flyer programs, and TAP’s own Victoria program is one of the best in Europe.  A winner, if you ask me…

Aircraft I have flown with TAP Portugal:

  • Airbus A330
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