I’d love to say “its not me, its you” and fully break up with United, but I don’t feel like any US domestic airline is that much better than any other. Although clearly United is at or very near the bottom. With that in mind, I used a recent business trip to Los Angeles as a trial run to explore some other options.
Sitting on a American plane, Delta in the background, with United way back there…
I’ve discussed my thought process about airline preference here before. My travel patterns consist primarily of business trips and include mostly domestic flights and but with multiple international trips each year. I also do my best to maximize award redemptions (making up much of the content of my blog). For several years, United has been the best airline for my needs. It had a good loyalty program, and their own flights plus Star Alliance mean I can get most anywhere I need to go. I also have a long history of United travel; am a Million Miler, and as much of a mess as it is, sadly it often feels like ‘home’.
I’ve had a lot of really poor experiences on United this year. Recently, I’ve had several international trips, which had been one last reason reason to stick with United, so I could use my GPUs to upgrade. Unfortunately, my upgrade rate has been very poor. I failed on an M fare EWR-DEL, I was #1 on upgrade list for ORD-MUC, and I even bought up to a W fare for a trip to Korea, but failed on the trans-Pacific legs in both directions. Yes, I guess I’m finally saying “enough is enough”, at least for a little while.
I’ve already banked over 150,000 miles (PQM), on United, so I now have 8 GPUs for 2015 (plus several from 2014 which I can’t seem to use). I have a few more domestic trips planned in 2014, so I wanted to explore some options. I booked a trip that included legs on both Delta and American. My company travel policy has changed a bit, so I have more options beyond just United, especially when other airlines are cheaper. Southwest is an option as well, but I didn’t consider that a valid choice for my needs.
The outbound flights were on Delta, from Milwaukee to LAX through Atlanta. It wasn’t a very direct routing, but the flights were cheap, and with a short layover, it wasn’t that much longer in duration than other options. Better yet, as opposed to my usual trips, both flights were on mainline. I have no Delta status, beyond SPG Crossover Rewards, and rather than credit to Skymiles, I just used my Alaska Airlines account to credit these flights.
Biscoffs and The Dude. Too bad Delta doesn’t serve Kahlua…
The flights were on an MD90 and an 767, both of which were old, but the cabins were at least somewhat refreshed. I definitely appreciated the snack options, as it was good to get Biscoff on board. The MD90 had Gogo plus free onboard streaming content, so I watched The Big Lebwoski. The 767 had in seat AVOD, but I really had a hard time finding content that was free. I watched a few shows and then just worked on my laptop. The streaming content seems much more extensive and current than what is available on United.
In all it was a nice experience and both flights landed on time. I expected as much. Delta has a nice in flight product, especially for domestic flights. I also had a gate agent say one of the nicest things I’ve heard in an airport. After I scanned my boarding pass, he said, “I appreciate you”. Maybe it was southern hospitality, but I haven’t heard anything like that from an airline employee in a long time. Besides happier employees, Delta has minimal 50 seat jets, which is passenger friendly. That said, their Skymiles program is inferior and continues to get worse. I just can’t bring myself to spend much time or effort flying this airline with such a poor loyalty program. That is the main reason I credited these flight to Alaska Mileage Plan.
Well, this is a different view that I’m used to…
For the return flights, I flew American, from LAX to Milwaukee through DFW. Again, slightly out of the way, but the flights were very cheap and it was an easy connection and mainline flights all the way. I definitely enjoyed the variety. While awaiting my departure, I realized I hadn’t ever been in T4 at LAX. I decided to walk around and explore a bit before my flight. I had read that the tunnel connecting terminals 4 and 5 was now open, so I decided to check it out.
LAX tunnel looking towards Terminal 5
I encountered a lot of contract staff while approaching the tunnel asking where I was going at various places along the way. Thankfully no one was as aggressive as Rocky encountered, but I found it a little strange there were so many people stationed down there. There was even someone driving a cart presumably to help people make connections, although I only saw pilots riding it between T5 and T6.
The tunnel connecting T5 and T6. Tastefully repainted with info about Delta destinations
These tunnels are still a little scary, and yes, the warning signs are still there. But, the fact that now T4-T8 are accessible airside is a good thing. The connector between TBIT and T4 is under construction, and will open in 2016. From Terminal 4, there are also shuttles to the remote terminal and to T6, also guarded by contract employees, but I opted to walk both ways.
Scary signs within the tunnels
As boarding time approached, I returned to my gate in Terminal 4. This flight was on a 767-300. The aviation geek in me was excited for another widebody, and for the internationally configured plane. This is usually a positive, although I was surprised to find a very old, tired plane. Based on much of what I’ve read, American has so many new planes, but even the tired old United 767s have in seat TVs. The experience was fine for a short domestic flight, but it would be a pretty uncomfortable experience for an intercontinental flight.
Was this from a museum? Nope, this is the current IFE controller on the “New American”
After I booked this trip, but before I took these flights, I discovered I would likely be making multiple trips back to Los Angeles before the end of the year. Thanks to some encouragement from Mike, I realized that if I signed up for the US Airways Trial Preferred program, I would get silver status right away and with enough flights, I could make a big dent in earning Chairman’s Preferred status, which turns into AA Executive Platinum in 2015. Kyle’s post summarizes this timely opportunity very well.
My new US status did not populate in the AA system before my flights, and the flight from LAX was nearly 100% full. Fortunately, the gate agent in DFW was nice enough to put me in Main Cabin Extra after I asked. I had the whole row to myself on this relatively lightly loaded MD-80 to Milwaukee.
Another old interior, but I appreciated the open seats and mainline flight home to MKE
Going ahead with the Preferred Trial is more of an experiment than I was originally planning on, but it is always good to have options. It seems like too good of an opportunity to pass up. I didn’t really give Delta a fair shake, but to be fair, I never really thought I would move my loyalty there. I flew Delta some after a few years as a Northwest Platinum, but SkyMiles is just a poor program for my needs. Once I realized I would have a fair amount of travel coming up, I figured I would make a push to maximize this promotion and try out US Airways and American Airlines.
So for the rest of 2014, and the first month and a half of 2015, I’ll likely be flying AA and US. It will be a nice change of pace, and maybe even an ‘easy’ way to get another top tier status. This might mean I’d have 10 international upgrades to use in 2015. Nice!
What are you doing to wrap up the year travel wise? I’ve been slow to move on to what hopefully will be greener pastures, but I’m glad I finally took the step, even if it isn’t a permanent change. How about you?