Boarding a plane domestically is getting to be just as bad as reading a magazine during a dental surgery knowing that almost certainly what happens inside is not going to be good.
Given the fact that there are so many different elite statuses, and the airlines charge for bags that are checked, everybody is bringing their rollies on-board. And of course, unless you get there first, you are not going to make the final cut and you will be sentenced to putting your bag in the hold of the plane. Good news though, it’s at zero cost and the bag is unlikely to get lost on the conveyer belts at the originating airport. Either way, it is a nightmare. Whatever system is employed, it usually fails – back to front, elite status first, ready-set-go, it all creates a pretty awful customer experience as people push each other to grab those important marker spaces to throw their bags in the overhead bins. Flight attendants are getting more diligent on where people are throwing their bags. If you think you will be throwing your bag in the business part of the plane if you’re traveling in coach, think again.
So why is it that with all this confusion, Southwest Airlines, which has been operating the most basic system of all with no baggage surcharge if you check, is always considered the best system? It’s random, there’s no class distinction, you just line up in rows with numbers allocated and you cannot move until they tell you. And on the airplane, it’s a free for all so you choose your seat, have a nice day, and get over it. It works and that’s the way it goes. The domestic boarding experience is one of the most horrific experiences known in the airline industry and yet the glowing example of how to do it right is staring everybody in the face.
But Southwest Airlines, which sits at a comfortable number four in overall ranking for the best USA domestic airlines, is not where it wants to be in terms of overall ranking. Number one for the fourth year in a row is Alaska Airlines, number two for the second year in a row is Delta, number three is Virgin America, and number four is Southwest. Most people would probably guess that the worst airline out there would be Spirit Airlines but actually, Spirit beats out American Airlines coming in at number eight. However, American is at least consistent and retains its stronghold and the prize for the worst airline for 2016. It’s the worst in canceled flights, worst in tarmac delays, and worst in mishandled baggage. While Spirit hangs down at the bottom for delays and complaints, you have to ask who would complain about a $25 ticket on a 1,000-mile route? On the other hand, American is charging big bucks for crap service. Get a load of this – American’s numbers actually improved over last year. Alaska, which has just acquired Virgin America, looks like it will further improve its network and grab some of its strong points and push it over to what was its Virgin competitor.
While the overall performance of airlines is a lot better than it was a year ago, it’s good to know who you want to put your bag and your bet on. Need we say more but the most punctual airline in the USA was the beloved Seattle-based Alaskan at 86% and the tardiest was Spirit at 74%. So, the numbers are small and the differences are in the inches (leg room, on time performance, queuing up to get on the plane, etc.) but it does not take that much to look at who is best at what and adopt those practices throughout. If Southwest has the best boarding, copy it. If JetBlue has the best in-flight entertainment, emulate it. If American cannot figure that out, then somewhere somebody better start changing the structure of the management rather than the structure of the plane.