What I Like Least About American, Delta, And United

Filed Under: American, Delta

There’s no denying that the “big three” US carriers aren’t always popular with consumers. In the past I’ve written posts dedicated to what I think American, Delta, and United actually do well.

After all, there’s no perfect airline, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Well, in this post I wanted to look at the other side of the coin. I wanted to briefly share what I like least about each of the “big three” US carriers. This is intended to be more big picture and philosophical than anything else (especially the point about Delta).

I’ll share my take, and then I’m curious to hear what you guys think.

American Airlines — No Strategy

American Airlines does many things well, like high speed wifi and the quality of their international business class seats.

What disappoints me most about American is pretty obvious — they completely lack a strategy. The management team can’t seem to decide on a strategy, so for now they’re seemingly settling on the strategy of following most negative changes of Delta’s, without having most of the things that set Delta apart.

American can’t seem to decide whether they’re a premium airline or an ultra low cost carrier, and in the process they’ve left everyone — including their employees — scratching their heads.

American Flagship Dining JFK

Delta Air Lines — A Bit Of Hubris

I absolutely think Delta is better than American and United in terms of customer service and reliability. Most Delta employees genuinely seem to like their jobs, and they know how to take care of customers.

However, I can’t help but feel like the company lacks humility. Delta is better than the competition. Delta management not only knows that, but in my opinion they actually think they’re better by a bigger margin than they actually are.

There’s an extension to this that bothers me. There’s no denying that management’s job is to maximize shareholder value, though I think there’s a way to go about that without completely making stuff up.

To give one example, I find Delta’s constant attacks on Gulf carriers to be off-putting. As I’ve long said, there’s a solid argument that can be made against Gulf carriers, but Delta isn’t making those arguments. Instead Delta resorts to saying things like:

  • If the Gulf carriers grow, we won’t be able to get our military where they need to be
  • American aviation industry jobs are at risk

If these kinds of things were actually of concern to Delta, you’d think they would act differently:

  • Delta has no problem partnering with Saudia, which is also a Gulf carrier
  • The airline has had a transatlantic joint venture with Alitalia, which has been both government owned and owned by Etihad, so they’ve had no problem taking advantage of both subsidies and profiting directly off Gulf carriers
  • Ironically Delta’s pilots argue that Delta is sending American jobs overseas through their investments and joint ventures, where Delta pilots see a reduction in flying

Delta is very smart in the way they go about doing business. But it’s also ironic that they’d then attack other airlines for things they’re also guilty of.

Delta A350 business class

United Airlines — Delusions Of Grandeur

I think United is doing a spectacular job with their route network — they have by far the most global and robust route network of a US carrier, and their network just keeps getting better. They’re also doing a great job with marketing Polaris, and with their lounges. I love how they’re introducing very premium heavy planes, which other airlines seem afraid to do.

But every time I see an interview with Oscar Munoz it’s about how the culture at United has changed, and how everyone is suddenly so friendly… and I’m really confused?

They act as if United has had some customer service renaissance post-Dr. Dao, how that was a great reminder for the company of where they used to be.

While it’s true that people aren’t being dragged off United flights, United’s alleged radical customer service transformation simply doesn’t match my experience. Like every other airline, there are good apples and bad apples. But in my experience the customer experience they offer is more in line with American’s than Delta’s.

When I walk around United’s terminal at Newark I still hear gate agents barking at passengers, threatening how big the fines will be if their bags are too big, and starting every announcement with “once again” (in other words “listen up dummies, I’m repeating myself”).

Onboard in Polaris I still find that they usually speak in fragments rather than complete sentences, and smiles cost extra.

Don’t get me wrong, United has some really lovely flight attendants (especially some of the ones that have been there forever), but to suggest that their culture has evolved significantly and that United employees are consistently friendly simply puzzles me.

Fine, maybe things have gotten a bit better than the Smisek days, where the New Jersey Port Authority seemed to be responsible for customer service training. But when it comes to frontline customer service I tend to think United is in the same league as American, and not in the same league as Delta.

United 787-10 business class

Bottom Line

I’m not saying any of the above are the single biggest problems at the airlines, though when I think of the negatives of the above three airlines, those are the first things that come to mind.

I’m curious to hear how you guys feel — do you disagree with any of my takes, and/or what do you like least about each of the “big three” US carriers?

  1. Doesn’t every airline, or every company for that matter, have hubris. They’re trying to promote themselves above the competition so I think that is justified. The Gulf carrier debate doesn’t really go in line with that. The Gulf carrier thing also doesn’t really affect the customer experience very much and it’s not a factor in customer service or what the flyers actually see.

  2. I’m inclined to think the worst thing about Delta would probably be coming up with revenue based mileage programs and setting off a seemingly unstoppable trend among airlines that destroys any semblance of reciprocation of loyalty, no?

  3. I love that American Airlines has a ton of ways to get miles on American with Amex and Barclays, and British Air miles with Chase which work ok on AA and were easy to acquire. However what I don’t like is their lack of effort to solve operational issues (I mean having a few spare aircraft at some hubs would be a start) and the fact they won’t allow British Air to redeem on anything other than sAAver fares. I understand why, but why not allow redemptions where a lot more BA miles are required, it seems that would somehow compensate them at a higher rate. I also like the relatively less punitive change fee / cancellation of $150 and $25 for each additional passenger on a ticket vs. $200 each for Delta.

  4. Yep, Delta keeps on making these claims “in the interest of American jobs” – while simultaneously buying large amounts of planes from Airbus and Bombardier.

  5. I wonder how the experience differs by hub? I fly out of Denver and have not experienced the hostility noted above from the Newark employees. I have seen that AA on multiple occasions, but never United. Granted, I’m only flying them 6 or 8 times a year right now, but the service has always been solid.

  6. They should all be like Southwest. Friendliest, best customer service, best fare structure ( no penalty for changing tickets, just an upgrade to full charge). I hate the others. Traveling to Mexico City with my 88-year old father in law we wanted to sit together. Cost us $150 PER TICKET one way for that simple privilege.

  7. My take on it +some extras

    American Airlines – Too many corners cut.
    Delta Air Lines – Too greedy management.
    United Airlines – Too many dinosaurs. (except the new MP program)

    Extra bonus
    Alaska Airlines – Too far away from East Coast.
    JetBlue – Too much competition.
    Southwest Airlines – Too many 737MAX.
    Spirit Airlines – Too much like being on Jerry Springer Show.

  8. Delta’s biggest problem is that they are working far to hard to be everything to everyone and consequently not really making anyone happy. The age of their fleet is an overall distraction which I think hurts their image across all classes of service – especially the MD series and 777 aircraft. They’re so old that it’s near impossible to get them clean, comfortable, and looking good. Delta employs this strategy – keeping the older planes flying – as part of a bigger maintenance strategy. This trickles down into little things at both ends of the fare spectrum. Using leather-like coverings for seats makes them easy to clean and I can appreciate that. However, riding 17 hours in business from ATL to JNB results in some serious monkey butt. Enough to push me to AF which has breathable fabrics that while harder to clean are easier on the customer. At the other end of the spectrum, selling deeply discounted fares based upon the addition of a row or two in economy makes everyone more uncomfortable and crabby. Example: Take a row out of the 350’s and make the lavs a little bigger and give that first row in business the aisle space back. Everyone will be happier.

    In other words they’ve traded on a few smiles and some customer service – the people side of the equation – and skimped on the hardware side and the net is a gamble. That makes much of the customer service a sham – I feel like I’m getting glad-handed because they don’t truly invest in the infrastructure to make the overall experience what it should be (or at least what I’m willing to pay for). I think the other two are variants on this theme. I’m waiting for an airline willing to take a risk on charging $50 more per ticket that will give me both great customer service using comfortably outfitted aircraft.

  9. I recently booked (and paid for) a return, Raleigh-Toronto flight first class, American Airlines. Each way had 2 legs. Of the 4 legs, 2 were Economy, 2 were Business. This is first class? What’s with AA?

  10. “Ironically Delta’s pilots argue that Delta is sending American jobs overseas through their investments and joint ventures, where Delta pilots see a reduction in flying” Unless Delta is reducing it’s fleet size, Delta pilots are still flying Delta aircraft. And in the last quarter, the pilots flew more overtime than ever as Delta covered some of it partner’s MAX routes. I don’t understand this logic of a reduction.

  11. Great Analysis as usual Lucky.

    Being from NYC, I am lucky to have all three legacy and Jetblue as options.

    American has zero strategy and does nothing to benefit the customer, except maybe the premium international customer. Their route network is weak and is built upon connections in undesirable cities (think Charlotte)

    Delta is very timely and professional and often times offers the lowest fairs on routes from NYC which I enjoy.

    Jetblue is by far the most customer-centered, but their route network is somewhat limited, though they excel in the Carribean and Florida. I love the free wifi.

    United is somewhat a mixed bag, but in the past three years, they have greatly improved. Terminal C at EWR is state of the arc and is the most comfortable and spacious terminal in the NYC area. United has a robust route network and by far the best schedule from NYC flying to all the important business markets for me (San Francisco, Tel Aviv, London) and is also great for leisure flying to Cancun.

    IMO, I am most excited to watch United continue to grow, while American further shifts their model to a European Legacy Model (like boring Iberia)

  12. I think the key point here is with Delta. They are good at sounding amazing, and do a lot of things well, but:

    -Their block times and boarding times are longer than both UA and AA. So they have better numbers, but they also set themselves up to be that way.
    -Their 319s and 321s have more seats than AA and UA (for the 321, this still holds post-Oasis).

    Having said that, I think AA isn’t perfect but does a lot of things quite well (wi-fi, good international product with PE almost everywhere, lowest qualification, arguably best elite benefits, best overall mileage redemption from a pricing/options standpoint), but needs to actually market that. Customer-facing IT improvements would help a lot with this. While their route network is highly hub-concentrated, they also take a lot of risks with international routes (in particular, BUD, KRK, etc.).

  13. Disagree with the above commenter from Denver. I fly out of DEN ~once a month on united, most often to SFO, and they are a nightmare on both ends. Nearly always delayed and then they yell at you about how long it takes the plane to board. It’s not my fault they board planes according to ticket prices and not in any way that actually flows and that they charge for checked bags so everyone brings a carry-on. The extra bonus is how my aisle seat i selected always manages to turn into a middle and they act like they are doing me a favor by letting me on the plane since its overbooked.

  14. Former flight attendant of 7 years split 5 for horizon/alaska, 2 for compass airlines (delta side only)
    I really only want to say that flight attendants, no matter where or when they work, are family (or at least should be).
    Crew [pilots and flight attendants] is like military, while in uniform no matter where its not expected but customary to smile and acknowledge other crew.
    Too often crews from the majors are too stuck up and will see other airlines’ crew and will sometimes purposely look in the other direction while passing by in airports(maybe one nice one will smile). It’s a damn shame.
    However regardless of that, the majors are polished and usually will give you exceptional service. No less, no more. Which, if you’re looking for a feature on the moving metal more than the person who will be saving your ass, then the choice is yours

  15. Recently changed from Star Alliance-Heavy Travel to Delta simply because “I hate United!”. Whenever I boarded from EWR, no matter what kind of tickets, what kind of credit cards I were holding, the experiences were always bad. Passing the customs also took longer time compared to JFK where Delta are heavy. JFK experiences are really the best among all the 3 airports in this region.

    If you were unfortunately travelling on UA basic economy, it is like “flying with shame”. I always like to summarize my experience with UA using this “flying with shame” after I had a terrible exp with them. I could not check my UA basic economy ticket on line or through apps, meaning you will be easier to miss your flight if you arrive late. No this, no that, the worker has to check my credit card physically several times to MAKE SURE I am not stealing their carry-on “money”, they even check my credit card number carefully to MAKE SURE I purchase their precious ticket using my UA credit card.

    When I flied back through another budget airline instead of UA from Mexico, I was deeply shocked, I felt refreshed.

    Through out my entire years of travelling, I have never flew such bad budget airlines like United. If I have to rank all the budget airline across the world, UA would be for sure one of the worst.

  16. @Talbot Brooks

    “I’m waiting for an airline willing to take a risk on charging $50 more per ticket that will give me both great customer service using comfortably outfitted aircraft.”

    More Room Throughout Coach, AA did exactly that more than a decade ago, it didn’t went down so good.

    Few years later AA started “selling deeply discounted fares based upon the addition of a row or two in economy makes everyone more uncomfortable and crabby”
    Last I remember, AA was the last legacy that went bankrupt.
    Also the reason why DOT forces airlines to show all-in pricing. People do fly NK over DL because it is few dollars cheaper on Expedia.

  17. I think for United it really depends on the airport you are flying out of. For example, whenever I fly out of IAD, CLE, ORD, or IAH, the ground staff and FAs tend to be pretty friendly. EWR is the worst.

  18. @ Ben — Delta’s biggest strength: over-the-top, amazing service for Diamonds; Delta’s biggest weakness: ripoff award pricing.

    United’s biggest strength: lifetime MM; United’s biggest weakness: back-stabbing TODs.

    American’s biggest strength: partner awards and lounge access for EXPs; American’s biggest weakness: operations.

  19. For me, and for the last 5 years, American is the best. And I don’t see that changing. I only take “premium” routes: LAX-JFK, LAX-LHR, etc. And American far and away has the best fleet of any US carrier flying these routes. Their 3 cabin transcon is superb, and using systemwide or business extra upgrades from business to first class is always available. I have an 88% upgrade rate on American, from economy to business, or from business to first. Just snagged a Cathay First award with AAdvantage miles for like, 110,000 points LAX-HKG. Their customer service has always been proactive in my experience. As long as you’re top tier elite, or premium cabin, and flying premium routes, they are great. I was MileagePlus member for years prior to switching to AAdvantage and I would never, ever, ever in a million years go back. Never been a Delta guy because their good planes are all in crappy hubs like Atlanta. Also, I know it sounds stupid, but their interior design is the worst, and waking up in that bright white and blue leather cabin makes a long haul a nightmare.

  20. I fly to SE Asia a lot using Emirates, Qatar and Etihad. The ME airlines are in a different league from the legacy three US airlines. When I need to fly domestic, I usually get shocked again in the big difference in both hard and soft product.

    I agree Delta is the best of the three but I do agree that they have a big lack of humility problem… not to mention Delta constantly whining about the ME airlines is a classic case of the “kettle calling the pot black”

    Good post!

  21. Although I’m not frequently visiting the US and therefore not frequently fly their airlines, I think I agree. Personally, my preference is – despite all the deficiencies described – American. I find their service friendly and reliable. Delta is o.k., but their fare rules are really unfriendly and I therefore only fly them if I’m really 100% sure I will take the flight. I’ve black-listed United after a number of really terrible experiences.

    But I agree with your analysis:

    – AA: You could add network planning as another example of their lack of strategy. E.g. they replaced ZRH-JFK by ZRH-PHL, although there are more than 1000 corporates based both in ZRH and NY, but only a handful in ZRH and PHL …

    – DL: Yes, I think their very unflexible fare rules are another sign of being overly self confident …

    – UA: oh well, I’ve really nothing (and I mean it) to say about them. They were just awful when I last flew them (e.g. nobody to attend an arriving flight into DCA for more than an hour, nobody to close a cargo hatch at EWR for more than 2 hours, being transferred to an empty boarding gate instead of immigration for 5 hours at IAD). So I’m really done with them.

  22. American always had an “attitude” issue,” and United had the “I don’t care attitude” but you are stuck here.

  23. @UA-DEN That’s interesting, I was just on that route last month and saw none of that. Boarding is a disaster with a 777 on a domestic route with everyone looking for carry-on space, but I didn’t have any issues with the cabin or ground crew.

  24. While my expectations are low when having to fly US airlines, most of my experiences on Delta and United have been relatively pleasant.
    AA however is an absolute disaster. Not so much of the planes, their longhaul BC is acceptable, but because of the staff. They don’t give a shit about their customers and are not shy about it. They bark, ignore, shout and are generally incompetent. Luggage handling on AA is another drama; luggage gets lost regularly and staff couldn’t care less to get it resolved. I once had a change to have a look in their ‘lost luggage store’ in Miami, I probably saw about 5 planeloads of luggage there.
    Anyway, I have stopped flying AA altogether since 4 yrs ago and couldn’t care less how much I have to pay to keep avoiding them.

  25. AA….no way! You couldn’t pay me to fly on AA. That’s how much I loath AA.
    UA…is like AA. Not as many news worthy problems as AA, but they are close.
    DAL…I still like for domestic flights.
    JBU….is my top choice for domestic flights.

  26. I know you don’t publish trip reports for every single flight you take, especially domestic ones, but I have to wonder about how much your analysis of AA and Delta’s customer service is affected by you actually flying on them more often than United?

    You’ve shared with us your many travel experiences on Delta and AA, but less so on United. And your United analysis above comes from walking thru Newark, and Polaris flights and watching Oscar Munoz interviews?

    Don’t get me wrong. You are entitled to your opinion, but my guess is that you don’t experience United like you experience AA as ExecPlat or Delta Plat/diamond which you have done.

  27. Ben,

    I’m not sure why “Performance in IROPS” isn’t more heavily weighted in your comments.
    Face it, on a “good flying day” in Atlanta, DL probably does pretty well. As do the others.
    My premise remains that Delta, being so centered in “lousy weather and ATC hubs”… LGA, ATL, DTW, even MSP, makes their “best ontime performance” hard to swallow sometimes.

    DL had waves of thunderstorms, power center failures, systems failures and computer outages that canceled THOUSANDS of flights at ATL… People were stranded (no food vouchers, no hotels, nothing) in Atlanta for days, in some cases over a week, in each of those situations.

    DL claims to be “the best” and people appear to buy that. But, service only really matters when things go bad. And, on DL they go really really bad. How about the recent three day stretch where EVERY day the non-stop JFK-LAX flew at least 15 hours late. @Sharon claims they take great care of the Diamonds, what the news reports in fact said NO accommodation was made for the DMs… who were left to sleep on the floor with everybody else at JFK.

    In my case, after 4 million miles on all these guys? My take is:

    American– Best in IROPS. Surly staff, but adequate competence. Need to get mechanics happy again.
    United– Best Mileage Program, highly contentious labor relations forever. Better since Dr. Dao Debacle.
    Delta– Highest opinion of themselves, despite glaring holes. Best at financial engineering and M&A. Worst in IROPS, Oldest dirtiest fleet. Claim to never cancel flights, but after 16 hours of delays isn’t it more humane to cancel and rebook?

    Southwest- If we were sane we’d just fly SWA if we need to get somewhere. Most humane policies and happiest staff.

    Overall, never forget… The Race To The Bottom is always led by Delta. Change fees, steerage class fares, bag fees, Tear Up Interline Agreements? All DL innovations.

  28. I would love to see you do an apples to apples comparison of the three airlines using the same aircraft, say a 737 8 in economy domestic, which is what I fly 98% of the time. Comfort, entertainment, service, and intrinsic value, as well as pricing.

  29. My complaint with all three airlines is that none of them treat Washington DC with respect. Delta only flies to Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City from any of our three airports (DCA, IAD, and BWI). American has outsourced nearly all of its DCA flights to the American Eagle, and they’ve pretty much abandoned IAD and BWI. United has a hub at IAD, but what was formerly a full-service European gateway has been relegated to handling overflow from Newark on service to only seven European cities. I refuse to connect in Newark or JFK for my European travel, so I’m now using foreign carriers for the many cities that United no longer serves year-round out of IAD.

  30. I fly frequently to and from the UK, and I have traveled on all three airlines. This may sound completely simple minded, but give me my back of seat entertainment and free wine with my dinner, and I’m a very happy girl.

  31. Either I do not understand why flying to Honduras is to Spencer. I do not like it. Fly to Honduras is more espencer than fly to Europe. Sorry but this is true.
    And the airline i asigne is Deltathe best, good service in everything

  32. @ Charlie. So that’s the point of a joint venture. If you fly from IAD on Air France KLM Virgin ( delta ) , Lufthansa Swiss ( United ) or BA ( American )

    Delta flies to its hubs from DCA – they also fly to LAX

    It wouldn’t make sense for United to have 2 hubs so close to each other

    DCA is also limited in terms of growth as it has a curfew, strict noise abatement regulations and perimeter restriction

  33. I just don’t get all the love for Southwest. They only have small 737’s with no legroom, no entertainment system what so ever and their boarding system is archaic. On 3 hour flights only get one little beverage, that’s it. There jokes get really old. And, they cancel at the drop of a hat. Worse airline ever.

  34. Oscar Munoz is problem #1 at United. He thinks he’s still ferrying coal like at his old job. The ground staff and flight attendants are problem #2: if you are reading this and don’t enjoy your job or dealing with passengers, please quit and get another job. Older planes are problem #3. Foreign carriers put United to shame. I’m Platinum on United so I don’t fly Delta or AA. However, I will fly SAS, Swiss, Singapore, Lufthansa, and ANA – all of which are wonderful Star Alliance airlines that put United to shame in terms of customer service and niceness of planes.

    Do this: compare the meal service in premium economy on SAS vs. United for an SFO – CPH / SFO-LHR route. (It doesn’t matter the airport pairs, anywhere in Europe is fine for this comparison). I am amazed that UA can be partner with such great airlines, yet seem to learn nothing from them. Who runs this place?

  35. United can suck it. I bought a ticket to IAD to attend my parent’s funeral. I had to move the flight sure to a schedule mixup with the church. United, being the greed driven pile of feces they are, charged me $200 to change my ticket AND another 110%, not 10%, 110% to change my damn ticket. Why in the hell do they screw people out of $200 to change a damn ticket? I have over 900,000 total FLIGHT miles with them and it means nothing. Loyalty is a two way street and United hady screwed this guy for the last time. Hello, SouthWest and eat a dick, United!

  36. @Tachyon_IAD_SBA_OGG

    When it comes to IROPS, I feel all 3 handled them on par, but then I also had status with them so I can’t comment for non status. Each airline have their fair share of hub meltdowns and it’s matter of luck, can’t really blame them for weather. Again I feel all 3 were equally decent after the meltdown.
    I think your bad experience with DL influence your comment. But why did you let your IROPS went on for 16 hours??? Unless it’s a ground stop, which affect every airline, all 3 would let you rebook after about an hour delay.

    I do think DL mishandled that JFK-LAX flight badly, but then it was compounded by weather issues too. As for DM sleeping on the floor, I do find that hard to believe. A wise DM would have ‘requested’ something and made it out on other flights, except those people who value DeltaOne seat over getting to LAX. DL does bend a lot for DM.

    Depending on how important you have to fly, I once had to drive from NYC to DCA just to avoid the weather. DL was nice enough to change it for me at no cost but won’t pay for my car rental (not expecting anyway even with status).

    The only issue with Southwest is no upgrades and international flights. To reach status, you need those precious spending.

  37. I would love to see a similar post on Qatar Airways. Spectacular Qsuite, excellent lounge and aircraft, dine on demand, superb Wi-Fi, everything is seemingly perfect and flawless… but for the lousy frequent-flyer program and status.

  38. Oh, and the reply to „thank you“ to a customer is „you are welcome“, „my pleasure“ or the like – not „m-hm“.

  39. I think a lot of this article is accurate. Delta is certainly a well run operation and has displaced AA as the industry’s bell weather a long time ago. It strategically seized opportunities in various places and had the benefit of completing the first major merger of the US3. That said, there is a lot of hubris indeed. Delta is a fine airline, a cut above, but it does nothing for you if your business does not take you to ATL, MSP, or DTW. UA has turned a corner that’s for sure, and has rolled out impressive new products for the premium cabin, has made strides to close gaps in its route network, and has moved beyond just emulating Delta. The on board service remains hit and miss though, Newark is still Newark, and why would anyone want to connect in ORD if they did not have to? AA seems to lack strategy, vision, and a leadership angle. It’s premium seat is actually good, but cabin crew are more often than not surly, and the company is at war with itself more than ever since the merger. AA could be great again and needs a new leadership.

  40. 90% of The big 3 workers…couldn’t get a job ( or kept it ) on Middle East or asia couriers….. There attitude sucks and it doesn’t cost to smile ….. USA lacking ….. I’ll fly non USA flights 100% of the time if there is a choice

  41. I think this is all pretty much spot on. I mostly fly AS for my domestic needs, but hopped over to Delta. I must say that I’ve been pretty disappointed after all of the fanfare in recent years. Super cramped seats, less legroom, tiny overhead, under seat space that requires a lever to get my small backpack underneath…and all of this was up front! I guess they have done a good job convincing people that IFE screens are all that matter.

  42. @UA-NYC
    Agree…The service in EWR-BOM and EWR-DEL flights are consistently inferior that I stopped flying those sectors. The customer service at the gate..oh! the case is already closed!

  43. I agree. I took Delta this year and experienced very good customer service. American doesn’t know what it wants (and the customer service needs major improvement) and United is the worst (especially at EWR). I prefer not to take them at all. But I would rather take Delta and American over Southwest any day.

  44. I like Delta the least.

    Old fleet, crappy frequent flyer program, hubs are in the wrong places (for me anyway).

  45. I always took the ‘once again’ thing as the regular American dumbness and arrogance. Probably even more specific for the East Coast and even more specific for metro New York. This has to do with how others there think they should treat me.

    Security staff seems to think the line moves faster if you shout the same brain dead instructions to people every 5 seconds, for example. And I once tried to take a box of microwave popcorn to Europe, as that brand isn’t for sale there anymore. They needed to check every single individual bag for ‘terrorist content’. I fortunately just had 24 of them so I kept security busy for half an hour… Really funny in a way, but as staff isn’t allowed to think processes like this take forever and no matter how you shout to those passengers, the line won’t move quicker if your colleagues slow it down.

  46. Not sure while there’s all this United bashing on this thread. I fly them as a regular out of SFO and have connected into all their major hubs. I don’t find this surly attitude that frequently anymore. I think I’ve had 1 semi-surly FA in the past year and most on the ground and in the air are very service oriented. Not sure what you’re referring to in terms of them being awful and that includes my connections through EWR.

    I flew DL over the past year a few times and while it was fine, I wasn’t wowed significantly above UA. I did find more poor service on AA, however.

    I do think a lot of UA’s feedback is dated (3-5 years ago), but I do understand that perception is reality and its very difficult to unwind 10+ years of bad behavior.

  47. As an international passenger primarily, my calculus is different than a typical domestic road warrior. AA is #1 by a long shot for my travel needs. The backbone of DL’s international fleet is the very old 767 with a dated J product for which you pay the same price as AA for a newer reverse herringbone seat on a 777, 787 or A330. AA still has some 767s and 757s around but they’re being phased out and fortunately, for me, these aren’t used on the routes I fly. My domestic transcons are on A321s and 737s and I’ve flown both DL and AA and I honestly don’t see a big difference. I don’t care about IFE on domestic flights. I can fault AA with being reactive and not proactive but at least, as I write, they haven’t yet raised (ruined) their award flight mileage requirements to the level of DL’s. UA is so far behind they’re not even worth mentioning in the same conversation.

  48. Regarding American, I like least their same day change policy and that they disallow routing changes. United has by far the best industry leading same day change policy as it allows you to change the date of your flight. Delta, American, JetBlue, and Alaska do not give as much flexibility in this regard. American’s rule about not being able to change your routing when doing a same day change is absurd.

  49. Not sure I see the correlation with DL’s UAE airline challenges and the theme of this article.

    Seems like apples and oranges as related to the comparison with the other two carriers.

  50. Let’s be very clear US Air purchased American AL. Its low cost US Air with a new name. US Air aka American took on huge debt to buy American AL. They are addicted to debt service…that’s all they focus on and think about. They have no concern for their biggest assets, their employees and customers. As others have commented they cut every corner they can. There is no enjoyment in flying American because almost every flight is delayed or canceled, employees are on edge and clearly miserable. And the attitude towards passengers is that we are simply freight. After 3 million miles I’m done, put a fork in me.

  51. I was flying on Delta one from Boston to Los Angeles this past Friday. Thursday night I get a call from a lovely Delta representative informing me that there was an aircraft swap so no more Delta One. Not only did she move me to an earlier flight with Delta One but she also gave me a $1000 voucher. Can anyone relate to a similar experience with either American or United?

  52. @Andy Murchison

    Technically America West bought US Airways. So It is actually a regional airline with a new name.

    I bet you gotta be at least Platinum or Diamond right? DL always treat their elites well. (why I don’t think any DM slept on the floor on IROPS)

  53. @sco – for your information, Delta and American will each charge the same exact change fee plus any change in fare. Southwest doesnt charge the change fee, but will charge the difference in fare (if any). Not sure what JetBlue does.

  54. Someone mentioned that they have, “blacklisted” United. I have too. After years of being an eyewitness to the Gate Agents (Honolulu Gate Agents are the worse of the worst) be downright nasty to their passengers, my day finally came last year. I’m a frequent flyer out of Honolulu. Just thinking about how I was treated, how I was stripped of my dignity…still brings tears to my eyes. I consoled myself with the thought that once I reached my destination and got off that plane, I would never, EVER, set another foot on a United Aircraft EVER again. No longer will price be a deciding factor in my choice of Airlines.

  55. @Eskimo:

    I’m not even Silver! I also paid the base fare of $598. They did the same with my mom when her flight was cancelled. They are AMAZING! Sadly, my company solely uses American for business travel :(.

  56. I have to use a wheelchair when going thru airports because I have COPD. Last year we were flying to Nassau on Delta. Delta changed our flights so we only had 35 minutes in Atlanta to get from Domestic to International. We had to wait 10 minutes for someone to show up with a wheelchair! Then he left me at the elevator and said he had to help someone else. We were running out of time to get to our gate so I had to walk fast, couldn’t wait. We went down the escalator, got on the train up the escalator and thank goodness our gate was the second one in the new terminal! The plane door was just getting ready to close when we got there! This isn’t the first time Delta has treated handicapped passengers poorly. Never will we fly Delta again!

  57. Love the USA but your airlines are vastly inferior to many others like Qantas, Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia, Singapore and most of the Europeans. Even the zillion new Chinese airlines usually get it done better than your terrible trio. I fly A LOT and always in Business.

  58. I work at AA. I wont fly with them, especially non-rev. I’ll go buy a SW ticket so I get treaded like a human being.

    US Air Bought AA out of a contrived bankruptcy. It was a Horton / Parker deal from the get go. Although USA is 5 airlines all together they are less than a 1/3 of AA. USA had no idea how big a operation AA is. First thing USA did was fired all the AA clerks and management. The Parker management hasn’t a clue. They have been floundering since.

    It is not the Crandall AA.

  59. I do not fly UA unless I have to. Most of my travel is to the UK and Europe and I’m rooted in BA which makes me usually choose AA when I fly domestically. I think, as you do that AA’s crews are really hit or miss: sometimes you get a good one and sometimes you don’t. The few times that I’ve flown DL in the last few years I have been very impressed, especially in first

  60. “Culture“ a complex concept as applied to a business and includes, in part, the attitudes, explicit and implicit rules and norms, values, salient historical events, decision making processes and the Leader. It’s is the most difficult “thing” to change, as it can be completely disconnected from goals and strategies, and exists like the atmosphere within the system with reflections of it manifesting throughout And at all levels of the system. I worked Within an old culture that for years attempted to modify the most customer unfriendly aspects. It had one branch that was the equivalent of what people Here talked about with Newark airport. Ultimately the consensus was The only way This location could be change would be to take a wrecking ball to it, bring it all down, clean it all off and start all over. Unfortunately with unionized employees, that’s not easy to do, and usually not anything a company would want to do, unless the system goes bankrupt and close the shop.
    A business adage that has always seemed to be more than just a pithey aphorism is “culture eats strategy for lunch.“ That is, a corporate culture will undermine whatever strategy and goals leadership has for the organization, Unless the culture is work done first so that is more amenable to leadership changes.. A lot of these Legacy airlines are old and they have old culture and old employees. None of those things like to change very much or very quickly. Humans are kind of like that. LOL so my hats off to United that’s taken a decent first step, and good luck , you’ve got a few more years to chip away at it. As people say it’s kind of like trying to scoop her poop at the toothpick. And newark? Fuggetaboutit.

  61. Article — “While it’s true that people aren’t being dragged off United flights, United’s alleged radical customer service transformation simply doesn’t match my experience.”

    With respect to that Dr. Dao incident, everyone needs to keep in mind that it was the ORD security personnel who did that dragging action, and *not* United personnel! However, it turns out that ORD security personnel did *not* have jurisdiction and should have referred that action to CPD, instead! I think that there was a lot of chaos all around on that incident, but I never read that onboard United personnel were at fault, despite the Politically Correct apology that United had to issue about that incident!

    With respect to United’s customer service improvements, their 1K Desk telephone agents recently actually acknowledged and thanked Million Miler status members at the end of the call! That had NEVER happened before!

    With respect to airport customer service agents (at check-in and gates), is it just the case that those who work on the East Coast (especially EWR) are just worse with their attitudes than those who work elsewhere in USA? I’ve NEVER experienced any of the stated complaints during my many decades of flying internationally on United out of SFO!

  62. Flown big 3 many times. Moral of this story IMO is to fly Southwest or True Blue whenever possible. Happier employees = better service.

  63. Wow hi iris is the perfect word when describing @Delta. As a Charter Diamond, million miler, I continue to see how Delta does not care for their best customers. Continual deterioration of benefits. When was the last time they made status more valuable? “We don’t have to, we’re Delta.”

  64. CEO of United should fly Hawaii-US once a half in the middle seat economy, one row from the back. Then the management might realize how poorly they treat customers.

  65. @LindaLucky, Delta does not have employees on their payroll to push wheelchair passengers. Wheelchair services most likely fall under the ADA umbrella rules for the airport, not the airline. The staff who push wheelchair are most likely on airport’s payroll, not on DL’s payroll. That’s why they do not wear the same uniform as DL’s ground staff.

    AA lost my business when USAirways didn’t transfer my lifetime mileage during their merger process (I had over 250K). Pre-merger UA had lousy routes within N.England and Asia Pacific. Post-merger UA killed my favorite part of CO (stretching out over 5 seats in their DC-10 flights to Europe).

    Based on my travel patterns, the least evil of the big 3 carriers in USA would be Delta. They treat their top tier elite members better than AA or UA (IrrOps, same day confirmed and standby travel), offer awesome tools to track checked baggage (RFID tags), and kept Bombay Sapphire stocked in beverage carts (started with World Biz in NW days).

  66. Up until September 1, I was a United pass rider and I thought the service was great. I now realize it was because I was a non rev. My last United flight was absolutely awful, from scowling flight attendants to non existent service on a 4 hour flight. ( one drink cart pass an hour into the flight and then a second run, just asking if you wanted coffee or water.

  67. As someone who lives in a place where all the airports are outstations (I’m not counting Allegiant’s bigger operations at VPS because they’re Allegiant) I really hate Southwest’s IT system, which doesn’t allow for a domestic connection of more than something like four hours under any circumstances and, when combined with their tendency to have a diluted hub system, will tell you it’s impossible to book what should be a simple one way ticket from, say, Pensacola to San Francisco. Yeah, there are workarounds but there are issues with those.

    I find Southwest to largely otherwise be perfectly adequate for domestic economy tickets but will never understand their cult-like following.

  68. While I have experienced quite a number of issues this year with awful gate agents, lost bags, terrible lounge customer service, etc. I do feel like United’s response to complaints has improved quite a bit. I have submitted complaints online several times for the major issues and I have received a response within 24 hours and in all cases a travel certificate.

    My biggest pet peeve remains the gate agent on a power trip who forces me to prove that my carry-on fits in the sizer. Shouldn’t a gate agent be able to assess this at a glance?

  69. I have to disagree with you about Delta and United; both have nearly destroyed the frequent flyer program. American is trying hard to catch up in this “race to the bottom”, but Delta and United had a big head start. I’m a two million miler on AA, but most of my miles came at a time when AA had by FAR the best FF program in the US. Now they seem to be following Delta by systematically dismantling everything good and fine about the program. I still love their international biz class seats tho…

  70. Flew AA From PHX to LHR. The flight attendants were very pleasant and liked their jobs. Some even chatted with me. They did run out of wine and gave a sincere apology. The food was simple but tasty. Compare this to a LHR to ORD flight a few years ago where they ran out of wine and no apology, a surly flight crew that avoided any interaction and crap food.

  71. Based on my travels both American and United are the worst as far as customer service and passenger comfort in economy is concerned. The last time I flew either airline was on United from ORD to BOS on a 737-800. Worst 2 hours my kneecaps ever experienced because of the lack of legroom. The only airline in the US I would consider for my travels is jetBlue, at least when someone reclines a seat back on their Airbus or Embraer aircraft my knees have room. If they were still around I would’ve given Virgin America a chance. These airlines are cramping more seats into planes in economy class at the expense of comfort while increasing ticket prices to a point where it’s becoming too expensive to fly(seriously,$700,sometimes more to fly round trip between BOS and ORD). It’s coming down to where I would rather drive than fly(even Amtrak or Greyhound starts to look good at this point).Most of these airlines are so busy chasing premium/business/first class customers that they have forgotten about people who can’t afford such products in economy and as such,have also treated economy customers like dirt.

    They’re so busy playing “catch-up” that they’ve forgotten how to play “get ahead”!

    “Airlines have made a pizza so cheap that people don’t want it anymore!!”
    -Gordon Bethune-Former CEO of Continental Airlines

  72. The problem with Delta is when they murrged with Northwest Airlines a number of years ago Delta management took control. Northwest was a far better airline and had a by far better management team. It took Delta 5 years to figure out it’s joint reservation system. Delta has only had a good working airline for the last three to four years.

  73. I think you are right on with all 3 of your assessments. In particular to Delta, there are two very different faces to that airline. One is the southern patriotic Disney Belle front that most only ever pay attention to. This face of the airline is simple, and petty attacks against ‘our common enemy’ (the middle east) doesn’t have to based in truth – it galvanizes a core of their demographic and distracts from what they are really doing.
    The more honest portrayal, though seldom recognized, is that of a ruthless cut throat corporate conniver. Richard Anderson was brilliant and genuine with subtle hints eluding to this…. Ed Bastian is in your face this. Delta has been building the world’s first ‘Global Airline’ since their AF/KLM joint venture post bankruptcy, only no one was watching. The mideast carriers were a complication simply because of the vast discrepancy in service, but Delta started whining as opposed to letting market forces close that service gap naturally. That was genuine temper tantrum at first I feel, but now we’re seeing it applied like a Trump rally and truth or purpose are seen as having little pertinence or relevance. All the while, Delta is building a monopolistic airline and circumventing market controls by presenting this fake enemy they have created, the ME3. Not one major Network news agency has said a word til LATAM, and still, with the foundations built, no one is paying any attention to their plotting….

  74. Lucky – thank you for this article! I’ve enjoyed the comments, especially as a mostly domestic flyer. I have to echo a few of the other comments reg UA and their awful service on flights out of Honolulu. My last flight on UA was HNL to MCO and I watched the gate agents in HNL personally select (hand picked) who was upgraded as well as speak poorly to the customers. It was atrocious – and not the first time. That was my last flight on UA. Delta all the way …. even if DL boasts about themselves, they have the best customer service hands-down. UA gate agents and flight attendants could not care less about the passengers. I had a horrid (despicable) experience with a Frontier flight attendant (MCO to COS) but I was flying Frontier… so… to be expected?
    Ps. Laughed at comment above about Spirit is the Jerry Springer Show!

  75. American Airlines has one huge problem- behind the awful (New American) paint job, EVERYTHING screams WE ARE USAIR.

  76. I think there is plenty of hubris to go around for all three. No matter the hard product (face it, they are all the same outside of foreign carriers), I think efficient , friendly service goes a long way to making it a memorable flight. What does bother me is the full attention to premium services to lure more high fare customers to their side while neglecting the full range of services.

  77. My experience with all three has been a mixed bag- in various classes of service. However, the stand alone worst for dealing with customer complaints is Delta. United is the best in that way and American significantly less so. How companies deal with complaints brought to their attention has a lot of influence on customer relations. Delta is greedy and arrogant to the point I have stopped using them. And while Delta’s loyalty program has some benefits, it really is quite absurdly useless at this point. Again, a really sad state of affairs in the US when Delta ranks so highly.

  78. When it comes to service on board the plane in International flights both United and Delta have much to learn from European operators such as British, KLM and Lufthansa.

  79. @Isaia Glaser — “When it comes to service on board the plane in International flights both United and Delta have much to learn from European operators such as British, KLM and Lufthansa.” —

    … as well as Asian airlines, including those from Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, etc!

    I notice that you didn’t mention American Airlines in your list of USA international airlines? Or is that one beyond any/all hope? 😛

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