It is no surprise to my friends and colleagues to hear that once again I am in the air again. More often than not it is for work but on this occasion the reason for my flight and quick nip across the Atlantic and continental north America is to retrieve my youngest for a rare gathering of the immediate Jones clan in London of all places.
My journey started with trading in some hard earned US Airways air miles and coughing up another $250 or so for a round trip ticket. Part two of the marathon involved scouring ticket aggregators like momondo and hipmunk as well as the individual airlines to try and secure the best possible deals in terms of tickets. Those who travel frequently on their own dime will know these tools well but likely have their personal preferences.
Because you’re dealing directly with the airline, trading in air miles for flights is easy with US Airways, far more so than British Airways because there are no apparent black out days and they seem to have few or no restrictions on reward flights.
The second and third leg flights comprising two passengers presented some issues despite the fact that the flights were to be fully cash funded. The first challenge was dealing with the holiday season crisis pricing madness and the second aspect was dealing school term dates and not wanting to be flying for 24 hours or more.
Again, the aggregators do a pretty good job of describing the relative pain associated with certain flights, delays in transit and of course very importantly departure times. With certain flights there was an expectation that you would be quite happy to depart at 6am, lurk around an airport for 5 hours with a groggy and crotchety 8 year old in tow and then spend another 10 hours happily holed up in a flying cigar tube.
The best I could do in terms of flights was an incredible three leg pair of tickets from Seattle to London via Chicago and Washington. Actual flying time will be close to 14 hours but importantly the flight involves three airplanes and 4 airports. Fortunately all the flights are with the same carrier and no borders are crossed except that of the us and UK. Accordingly border crossing and international transit are not a challenge as it is when traveling through Canada say.
The carrier in question is united airlines, one of the largest carriers in the united states. The tickets were bought via a discount site and while it is possible that I could have bought them directly through the united website, my searches on there didn’t reveal the levels of pricing that I ultimately managed to secure through the discount site. At any rate, the tickets were hardly what i wold describe as a bargain coming in at over £1000 each..
Despite the continuity in carriers, trying to actually reserve seats proved to be a little more challenging as it appears the airline wants to, or rather makes more out of charging a premium for the privilege of seat selection. As a consequence, despite traveling with a minor and having booked more than one seat at the same time getting seats together was a challenge. It seems too, that i was not the only person with this problem as there were plenty of other passengers with the same challenge.
United has one of the better passenger boarding procedures and the technology that they use on their website and at check in is amongst the best I have used. Cabin crew for the most part are reasonable but the ground staff in Seattle at least are a mixed bag varying in effectiveness and customer service. I couldn’t help feeling that if there was a little more sense to the seat assignments, he whole process would be a lot easier and result in happier customers.
Certainly for myself, I am glad at this stage that I have almost never flown United and when I have had the experience it has largely been a sub par one.
Passengers like me choose airlines and flights using basic criteria – carrier affinity, route convenience and almost certainly price. Price is likely to be the most dominant one when the passengers are paying out of their own pockets. As a consequence for private domestic travelers (who may be in a minority) unless you’re offering something really special, travelers don’t care but it is easy to piss them off.