I have a wedding coming up in September, and I was faced with a unique situation on the way back. Five different airlines were similarly priced, all requiring a single stop. I know that what’s important varies from person to person, but I thought this would be a fun look at what makes me tick and what I imagine others might consider as well.
First of all, I should note that my wife and I will be meeting in NYC a few days beforehand coming from different places, so we booked those separately. This was just a look at the return flight, and we only wanted White Plains. As long-time readers know, we always prefer Long Beach over LAX, but Long Beach required two stops coming back from White Plains and the times weren’t great, so we opted for LAX. One last caveat – for some, the frequent flier program is what matters, but I couldn’t care less. I mean, I’ll earn miles when I fly, but I don’t ever make a decision based on the program.
With that out of the way, we found flights ranging from $141 to $190 on these five different airlines. The price difference in that range didn’t matter to me, so we just focused on what would work best. Here’s how our thinking went from least interesting to most.
- AirTran via Atlanta, leave 629p, arrive 1159p
In my mind, AirTran is (or should I say “was” since it’ll be Southwest soon enough) never a serious contender for my business. I like the XM radio and the wifi, and I love the 717 (or any Douglas-built airplane). But the knee-crunching legroom on the 717 (which would take us to Atlanta) is just too much. Last time I flew AirTran was in December 2005 from Indianapolis to Ft Lauderdale, and my legs were angry. I’m not a tall man, but even on that 2 hour flight it was painful. Plus, the very late arrival time in LA just wasn’t going to work well for us.
- United via Chicago, leave 1202p, arrive 436p
I’ll admit that this one started out strong. With the shortest total duration of any flight, it seemed attractive, but then I looked under the surface. That first flight is on a Bombardier CRJ. That’s not comfy for 2+ hours either. Then it was on to an A319 with no internet and only overhead screens. But beyond that, the short 53 minute connection time made me anxious, especially going from Express to mainline. If you land on the F concourse and have to fly out of C in Chicago, that’s a hike. And if there’s a delay, there’s no room for error. Not worth it, even though this was the cheapest at $141.
- American via Chicago, leave 1240p, arrive 525p
On the surface, this looks good. It’s a short (but not too short) 1h10m layover in Chicago and we get to ride on a 767 to LA. It’s hard to turn down a widebody on a domestic flight, unless the widebody provides a substandard experience. First off, we would have had 2 hours on an Embraer Regional Jet to get to Chicago. That airplane is somewhat tolerable for a single traveler on the side but not for two people sitting together. I mean, not for that long of a flight. And then we’d be rewarded with one of American’s old 767s which have no internet and just overhead screens showing movies. Why would I want to subject myself to that if I had other options?
- US Airways via Philadelphia, leave 305p, arrive 845p
It may sound strange to some, but US Airways provided a compelling option. First of all, it was a short hop down to Philly on a Dash-8 prop. If the weather was good, that would be a beautiful ride. Then we’d ride a nice A321 home with wifi onboard to keep us busy. A 1h45m layover sounded good for notoriously crowded Philly, and this almost made the cut. The holdback? The 845p arrival was later than either one of us liked. Also, we would be ready to go earlier in the day and it would have just been a waste of time stick around until 305p. Otherwise, this was a good option.
- Delta via Atlanta, leave 1030a, arrive 454p
This may seem like an odd choice since Atlanta isn’t exactly on the way to LA and the 2+ hour layover may not be ideal, but for us, this was the best option. A longer layover never bothers me if I’m not in a time crunch, because it just builds in some nice slack to the process in case something goes wrong. The flight to Atlanta is also on an regional jet, but it’s the more comfortable CRJ-700. And the flight back from Atlanta will have wifi and live TV onboard. That will make this trip go much quicker. I’ve said in the past that I prefer to be unplugged, and that’s true. But the concierge business means that I need to be in touch at all times just in case something goes wrong. Wifi becomes more and more important.
So that’s that. It’s funny that the decision-making process is so different than it would have been just a few years ago. The thought that internet would even be a factor is new, but it’s becoming more important. Usage is still low, but I have to assume it’s going to change over time.
I know everyone has different criteria for choosing flights, so what would you have picked?