Knee Gadget Sales Rise

Posted on: August 27th, 2014 by: Martin J Cowling

After “that incident” on United Airlines this week, the Knee Defender, a gadget that blocks airplane seats from reclining, has seen a boost in sales. It’s website crashed yesterday under the weight of orders for the $US21.95 Knee defender! The device consists of two clips that slip onto the seatback tray.


The incident, occurred, on  United Flight 1462 from Newark, New Jersey to Denver, Colorado. A male passenger (48 years old), seated in a middle seat of row 12 used the Knee Defender to stop the female passenger (also aged 48) in the seat in front of him reclining.  Ironically they were seated in the 737′s Economy Plus section which has 35″ leg room compared to 31″ in regular Economy.


 The female again asked him to allow her to recline her seat and he refused. She then appealed for help from a flight attendant who asked the male to remove the device. He again refused. At this time,  the woman  stood up, turned around and threw a cup of water over the male.  The pilot then diverted the plane to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and both passengers were deplaned. Flight 1462 continued onto Denver arriving 1 hour and 38 minutes late. 

I am wondering if there really has been a spate of bad behaviour on planes this year or are we reporting it more?

I personally hate reclining seats. They made sense in the old days when we had 36 to 40 inches between seats but in today’s environment when airlines have cut us back to 29, 30 or 31 inches, they are an anachronism. When in Economy, I choose seats in exit rows or the front row to avoid being subjected to the possibility of someone pushing their seat back onto my 185cm (6’1″ frame). I don’t recline unless I have no one behind me or I am “up front”. I feel sorry for the people behind me.

Clearly, if these knee defender sales are any indication, other passengers feel the same. In fact, a survey of 1,000 passengers by Skyscanner last year found that 91 per cent of passengers would like to see reclining seats banned on flights. Some airlines (Monarch, Ryanair, Spirit and Allegiant, for example) have removed reclining seats from their planes or disabled the mechanisms. In the meantime, the four largest U.S. airlines – American Airlines, Delta, Southwest and United all ban the use of the Knee Defender. That ban seems to have been irrelevant in the case of flight 1492.

Do you want to see reclining seats removed? Or will you buy a knee defender?

Ranking US airlines by complaints

Posted on: April 11th, 2014 by: Martin J Cowling

US airlines get about 10, 000 complaints a year reported to the US Department of Transport. The number of complaints rose until 2012, when they fell slightly.


1404 US airlines complaint tendLast year, 643 million passengers were carried by US airlines, so the number of complaints in that perspective does not seem to me to be that high. Of course few of us take our frustration with an airline to the appropriate authorities, preferring to whine about it ourselves or post our experiences on Facebook!

The report “Unfriendly Skies”, an analysis of five years of airline complaints by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund shows some interesting patterns.

Overall, consumers complained most about flight problems (one third of all complaints). Flight problems include Cancellations, Delays, and Missed Connections.  This was followed by:

  • Baggage (16%)
  • Reservations/ticketing and boarding (13%)
  • Customer Service (13%)

These four categories comprise three quarters (75%) of all complaints.

Of concern were that seven percent of all complaints concerned issues with disability. Oversales, an issue a few years ago were only 4% of all complaints.

1404 overall complaints by category

The top five most complained about airlines between 2009 and 2013 were:

  1. Spirit Airlines who topped the list with three times more complaints than any other carrier- I have already dealt with the much publicised and not unexpected shocker results in an earlier post today.
  2. Frontier Airlines received 3 complaints per 100 000 passengers in 2013. Interestingly up to 2012, their complaints hovered around the 1 per 100 000 mark. In 2013, they surged. Linked to their move toward becoming an ultra low cost carrier? Kate O’Malley, Manager, Corporate Communications at Frontier Airlines blames a botched frequent flyer promotion on the rise in dissatisfaction.

    Frontier Airlines - Airbus on short final


  3. United Airlines  saw their customer complaints rise from 1.3 complaints per 100 000 passengers in 2009 to a whopping 4.2 in 2012. This spike was undoubtedly related to their merger with Continental airlines. In 2013 they dropped to 2.1.

    English: The sign indicating the headquarters ...

    American Airlines HQ: Wikipedia

  4. American Airlines have the dubious record of seeing their complaints increase every year since 2009. They have almost doubled from 1.06 in 2009 to 1.99 in 2013). I have been complaining consistently that every time I fly American, it has felt worse than it did before. JD Power nominated them as the third worst of North America’s Traditional carriers. It will be interesting to see  how its merger with US changes this. Passengers complained most about cancellations, delays and missed connections. One fifth of all complaints were to do with baggage issues with 15% upset by poor customer service (a beef of mine with this airline).
  5. American Eagle Airlines:Like its parent, American Eagle have seen a steady rise in complaints from 0.6 per 100 000 passengers in 2009 to 1.7 last year. Flight problems, baggage and customer service topped the concerns.

The best?

  1. Southwest (0.3 complaints per 100 000). While far fewer complaints than another carrier, flight problems, customer service and baggage topped the list
  2. Alaska Airlines (0.4 complaints per 100 000). Reservations, ticketing and boarding were where this carrier had the most issues.
  3. Delta have consistently worked hard since the merger with Northwest to build a better airline. A few years ago , I vowed never to fly them again. Since getting my toe back in the water, so as to speak, I see the airline improving everywhere. They dropped from 1.9 complaints per 100 000 in 2009 to 0.59 last year. Baggage complaints have fallen by two thirds. Complaints to do with reservations, ticketing and boarding have fallen by almost 60 percent.
  4. Jetblue had their worst year for customer complaints in 2010 with 1.25 per 100 000 passengers. They appear to have worked consistently since then to halve complaints with 2013 being their least complained about year with 0.61 complaints per 100 000 passengers. Baggage was where they saw their biggest issues topping concerns about flight delays and cancellations.

Overall, no surprises with the results. They parallel my experiences. It is important to note that improvement is possible as evidenced by Jetblue Delta and United. American has a clear path ahead of them as they build what will hopefully be a better airline from their merger.

 Related Posts

Spirit most complained about US airline

2013 Worst Airlines

Ten Worst Airlines- 2012 










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Spirit most complained about US airline

Posted on: April 11th, 2014 by: Martin J Cowling

I have never had the delight of flying Spirit Airlines in the USA. The one time, I turned up for a Spirit flight, they cancelled it! In the mould of Ryanair, Spirit combines low fares and profitability and customer complaints.

Over the last five years, Spirit has consistently received three times more complaints than any other airline and the number of complaints against the airline kept rising in that period.  In a report compiled by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund based on Department of Transport statistics, Spirit managed to increase its customer complaints from 6.7 per 100,000 passengers in 2009 to 9.4 in 2013. A rise of almost 50%.


Spirit Airlines A319-132 N527NK

Photo credit: caribb)

Passengers on Spirit companied mostly about:

  • Flight problems (Cancellations, Delays, and Missed Connections)
  • Reservation, ticketing and boarding issues
  • Baggage issues

They were least likely to complain about:

  • Problems with animals (United had consistently more complaints)
  • Treatment of people with disability
  • Fares (no surprises there but they had ten times more complaints than Alaskan airlines)
  • Advertising (but had almost as many complaints as United which is a much bigger carrier)

Since 2008, the Department of Transportation has fined Spirit $565,000 in five violations of consumer protection laws including oversales, luggage and deceptive advertising.

Skytrax rate them a two star airline.  On that site, customers rate the airline’s Standard of Customer support service as only one star. Passengers here rate Spirit an average three out of ten.

Disgruntled users have even set up a twitter handle against the carrier: @hatespiritair.

Spirit Airlines founded in 1993 is based in headquartered in Florida and flies across the USA, Caribbean, Mexico, and Latin America from Atlantic City, Chicago-O’Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Detroit, Ft. Lauderdale, Las Vegas and Myrtle Beach. In 200, it transitioned to “ultra low cost carrier”. It sells ultra cheaper fares than other carriers and then extracts top dollar for every amenity: boarding passes, carry on luggage, checked in luggage, seat assignments, snacks and water.

In addition, Spirit crams more passengers onto their planes in non reclining seats (thats actually a plus for me!). Their Airbus 320 has 178 seats (4 with 36″ seat pitch and 174 with 28″) compared with Jetblue’s 150 seats (42 with 38″ pitch and 108 with 34″ pitch). The airline says: “By adding seats and reducing seat pitch slightly, we can reduce our fares and be more environmentally-friendly

There are two ways that Spirit are winning:

  1. Growth- It plans to almost triple its 54-jet fleet by 2021. It already one of the youngest fleets in the USA
  2. Profitability

The question is are there limits to this growth? Will the consumer horror stories outweigh the appeal of their ultra low fares? As one customer review at Skytrax says: “On Sunday, March 30, 2014 my husband and I endured the worst experience we have dealt with regarding any airline. From the moment we got into the line to proceed to the service counter where we engaged with the rudest of service reps, to the poor representation or should I say lack of representation when I called to check on a charge for our carry-on luggage and additional charge for so called extra poundage on our check-in bag… Never, fly again with them.”

Interestingly on my one experience with Spirit, I had no problem getting moved to another flight and the staff member at the airport was a delight to interact with!

What about you? Flown Spirit? Horror stories or joy?

Related Posts:

Onion Satire: FAA declares Spirit worst airline

Ten Worst Airlines- 2012 

Main Airline Fees

Six Low Cost Carrier’s Real Fare costs


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Rating US airlines

Posted on: May 31st, 2013 by: Martin J Cowling

As a regular flier, I like to rate who I fly with. I am not alone. Over 16,000 readers of Consumer Reports magazine reviewed 31,732 US domestic flights in February, 2013 for the Consumer Reports National Research Center.

The carriers were rated by the readers on six dimensions:

1. Ease of check-in
2. Friendliness and responsiveness of cabin crew
3. Cabin cleanliness
4. Baggage handling
5. Seating comfort
6. In-flight entertainment

The results were not a huge surprise as to where the eleven US carriers ranked. The ranking was very close to my own assessments for 2012. My ordering was slightly different. For example, I put JetBlue as my number one rated US airline last year, although I dearly love Virgin America too.
[table “3” not found /]

I am interested that the airlines’ booking systems were not rated. Thats an important consideration for me as is on-board catering. This is of course, almost non existent in the US but I still like to have some sense of how good the food is that the carrier is selling.

Related Posts

Ten Worst Airlines- 2012

My Top Airlines for 2012

787 takes to the sky -Who, Where and Why

Posted on: May 4th, 2013 by: Martin J Cowling

After a three-month break from mid January until late April,  an elaborate battery fix and two US test flights, the 787 is back in the air.

I have previously described the changes that are being installed by 300 Boeing technicians to the planes across the world. Interestingly, the Japanese authorities have insisted on additional alterations in addition to the changes mandated by the FAA. They have insisted ANA and JAL  install battery monitoring systems to monitor the battery performance and to carry out an inspection program to battery changes are working effectively. These additional precautions do not apply to any other airlines flying 787
Three questions:

  1. Why has the US FAA not forced US carriers to do the same fix as the Japanese?
  2. Why will the other six airlines in the world not have the same safety?</li
  3. How will consumers feel about this?


 The timetable for the return of the 787 in date order:


Ethiopian Airlines – April 27th: Addis-Abba – Ethiopia

Ethiopian Airlines were the first to fly 787 Dreamliner since grounding with a two-hour incident free commercial flight (pictured below, at take-off). The CEO of Ethiopian Airlines Tewolde Gebremariam was on board. Their other three 787s are being retrofitted.

Associated Press


Qatar Airlines –  May 1st: Doha-Dubai

After operating its first Dreamliner flight Qatar Airways  announced the resumption of daily Boeing 787 services from London to Doha from May 15. The airline said it would expect compensation from Boeing for taking planes that “could not be used“. The airline was already expecting recompense for the three year delay in delivery. CEO Al Baker said:  “I still feel the aircraft should not have been grounded…I think there was reaction due to the unnecessary evacuation of a Japanese aircraft. People are too sensitive to what the social media says”. All five the airline’s Dreamliners will all be in service by May 31.

Al Baker also said: “We are short of airplanes. So we will look at … either purchase or lease of interim airplanes from Airbus or Boeing. We have not yet decided.”


Air India – May 16th: Domestic Flights

The Boeing team arrived in Delhi last Tuesday to fit the new system. The first two craft should be ready to fly by May 10 with the remaining four by the end of the month. The 787s would be required to go through test flights before they are certified by India’s civil aviation regulator and pilots will need to undergo retraining. The carrier will utilise the plane on domestic routes in India from Delhi to Bangalore, Kolkata, and Chennai.  On June 1st, it will start flying from Delhi to both London and Paris. Boeing have agreed to compensate Air India for losses incurred by the state-run carrier according to India’s civil aviation minister, Ajit Singh. Boeing will deliver more of the planes to the carrier over the next few months.


United Airlines – May 31st: Houston – Denver

As previously noted, United has already included the 787 in its schedule from May 31. The airline has indicated, however, they may start 787 flights before May 31st. On June 10th, the twice delayed Denver to Tokyo service will finally start along with Houston to London. On August 1st, the Los Angeles to Tokyo and the long awaited Houston-Lagos will start. This will be followed by Los Angeles to Shanghai on August 2nd.


All Nippon Airways –  June 1st: Tokyo – Frankfurt

During the grounding, ANA cancelled a 3601 flights at a cost of $US92 million. Boeing began installing the battery fix on five grounded 787 jets owned by launch customer All Nippon Airways on April 22. The airline is planning between 100 and 200 round trip test flights through May, before it starts carrying passengers again on scheduled flights. The test flights are intended to re-train 200 of ANA’s Dreamliner pilots after the three-month break. ANA is currently planning to restart 787 service on June 1 on  domestic routes and Tokyo to Frankfurt. On September 1st, it will fly between Tokyo and San Jose and Tokyo to Seattle.


Japan Air Lines – June 1st: Tokyo – Beijing, Singapore, San Diego and Boston

Like ANA, JAL’s 787 JAL will return after completing test flights and pilot re-training. JAL cancelled or reduced 766 flights during the grounding at a cost of 4.8 billion yen. Boeing had full-page advertisements in five national Japanese newspapers on Tuesday: “We express our deep gratitude towards passengers, airlines, suppliers and the investigating authorities in each country . . . for their support on the occasion of resuming operations of the completely modified 787,”


LAN – June 1st: Santiago – Lima and Los Angeles

This will be followed by Service between Santiago and Madrid and Frankfurt later in 2013.


LOT Polish Airlines – June 5th: Warsaw – Chicago

LOT’s January launch of this service turned into a nightmare when its plane was grounded at Washington DC after its first ever flight! The return trip complete with champagne and balloons had to be cancelled! On June 7th, the plane will be used between Warsaw and Toronto, followed by Warsaw to New York on June 30th. Speculation is rife that LOT may be in the sights of  Norwegian Air after their CEO Bjorn Kjos met with Polish government officials. Norwegian themselves will soon be a 787 user (see below).


The Timetable for New Users:


Thomson Airways -July 8th: Manchester – Florida & Glasgow – Cancun

Thomson Airways was initially due to receive the first of its 13 Dreamliners at the end of February. They are tipping a start date ready for the European summer.


Norwegian Air: Oslo – NYC and Bangkok

The airline has ordered three of the 787s. It has recently suggested that one of its forthcoming Boeing 787 Dreamliners may fly under an Irish flag for cost reasons. Norwegian  have also been rumoured to be considering a takeover of LOT.


 Hainan: September: Beijing – Chicago

China’s aviation regulator  is poised to grant approval this month for the 787  to begin commercial service with Chinese airlines.  Hainan has ordered ten but had suggested they may swap future 787 Dreamliners for the larger 747-8s because of the delivery delays. In the meantime,  they should get their first 787 within the next two months as it has already competed Boeing test flights.


China Southern: September: Domestic China

China Southern have also ordered ten of the 787 and three are sitting at the Boeing plants waiting for delivery. China Southern will become the first airline in the world to fly both the 787 and A380 concurrently. After launching on Chinese domestic services, the 787 will probably fly between China and European routes and also to Sydney and Melbourne and possibly Auckland.

Related Posts

April 20th 787 Cleared to Fly!

March 30th: Boeing calls for 787s to fly

March 16th: 787 Battery Fix?

January 25th: The 787 Battery Fire: Step by step

January 18th: All 787s grounded- airline by airline


787 Cleared to Fly!

Posted on: April 20th, 2013 by: Martin J Cowling

The FAA (the U.S. regulators) has approved the return of the grounded 787 Dreamliner to the air next week. The authority were clearly satisfied with Boeing’s fixes with US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood saying: “These changes to the 787 battery will ensure the safety of the aircraft and its passengers“. The manufacturer is saying while it does not know what caused the fire, it’s fixes will deal with 80 possible causes.

“Next week, the FAA will issue instructions to operators for making changes to the aircraft and will publish in the Federal Register the final directive that will allow the 787 to return to service with the battery system modifications. The directive will take effect upon publication. The FAA will require airlines that operate the 787 to install containment and venting systems for the main and auxiliary system batteries, and to replace the batteries and their chargers with modified components

It is unclear what Japanese regulators will do. They may accept the FAA decision or require additional information from Boeing or demand additions safeguards or require the manufacturer to undertake more test flights.

The F.A.A. approval which has been expected for the last few days, nonetheless came before the National Transportation Safety Board hearings next week on why the battery ignited on the Tarmac at Boston, USA back on January 7. The Board is also investigating to what extent any potential battery risks were underestimated. Officials from Boeing, Thales (battery system), GS-Yuasa (the battery manufacturer) and the FAA have been summoned to Washington.

The 50 jets owned  by seven airlines  will start flying in weeks.
Boeing has 300 technicians deployed in teams around the world to quickly install the modified batteries and other changes on these jets, a process that takes five days per plane. I listed the fixes in a post last month.

United will probably start May 31, as foreshadowed in my blog post last week from Houston to Denver.

ANA have also placed the 787 in their schedules from May 31.

Ethiopian and Qatar have said they want their 787s in the air as soon as possible.

The F.A.A.’s decision will allow Boeing to deliver many of the 34 completed 787s in Charleston and Everett, which airlines are waiting for.

Now let’s see how the passengers feel!

Related Posts

April 6: 787 in weeks???

March 30: Boeing calls for 787s to fly

March 23:  787 Testing

March 16: 787 Battery Fix?


787 to fly from May 31

Posted on: April 13th, 2013 by: Martin J Cowling

United Airlines has scheduled a 787 flight from Houston to Denver on May 31. Seats are available for sale. It is planning to resume international 787 flights on June 10, from Denver to Tokyo.

United stated they will make more schedule changes when they know that the plane has been cleared to fly.

Over at Qatar Airways, their CEO announced their 787 fleet will be flying before May 31 with the Wall Street Journal claiming that Qatar is planning to have four of their five 787s in service by April 30.

ANA (All Nippon) CEO Shinichiro Ito told reporters he anticipates their 787s to be flying from June. As the 787 launch customer and owner of the biggest fleet of the planes, they will undoubtedly be the first to have their planes fixed with the improved battery safety system.

Air India plans to have their fleet in the air in May.

All of this is reliant on the US FAA and other air safety bodies clearing the plane to fly. Then each Of the 50 planes currently grounded will need to have the battery fix installed-a process that will probably take two days for each one.

After Boeing has applied the fix, then the airline can commence delivering the backlog of undelivered jets (currently 31).

Related Posts:

April 6: 787 in weeks???

March 30: Boeing calls for 787s to fly

March 23: 787 Testing

March 16: 787 Battery Fix?

Where can you find a 787?

Posted on: February 23rd, 2013 by: Martin J Cowling

Seven airlines have fifty 787s grounded at airports across the world:

Tokyo Haneda, Japan: 12
Tokyo Narita, Japan: 7
Mumbai, India: 5
Houston, USA: 4
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:4
Santiago, Chile: 3
Takamatsu, Japan: 2
Bangalore, India: 1
Boston, USA: 1
Chicago,USA: 1
Doha, Qatar: 1
Frankfurt, Germany: 1
Kumamoto, Japan: 1
London Heathrow, UK: 1
Los Angeles, USA: 1
Matsuyama, Japan: 1
Warsaw, Poland: 1

In addition, Boeing has about 20 undelivered 787s.

All 787s grounded-airline by airline

Posted on: January 18th, 2013 by: Martin J Cowling

After a series of highly publicised problems including an ANA emergency landing on Wednesday 16 January, all 50 of the 787s across the world have been grounded. On Wednesday 16th January, 2013, US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered the grounding of all US-registered 787s and recommended other jurisdictions do the same:

As a result of an in-flight, Boeing 787 battery incident earlier today in Japan, the FAA will issue an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) to address a potential battery fire risk in the 787 and require operators to temporarily cease operations.  Before further flight, operators of U.S.-registered, Boeing 787 aircraft must demonstrate to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that the batteries are safe.    

The battery from the ANA 787 left next to an undamaged battery. Pic: Japan Transport Safety Board


The European Aviation Safety Agency have followed the FAA’s grounding order. India also followed the FAA directive. The FAA began a  comprehensive review of all aspects of the Boeing 787 last week.  No one yet knows if the problem is with the batteries themselves or the power source or the charging system or the 787’s electrical system.The airliner relies more on electrical power to run on-board systems than any other plane. The agency expects to have some preliminary data early next week.

The problem needs to be fixed before the public begin to doubt the aircraft’s safety. No one wants a repeat of the UK Comet scenario where a technically advanced plane which broke speed records,  proved to be unsafe.  Three Comets imploded mid flight in 1953 and 1954. All aboard perished. By the time a safer variant was launched, the public were spooked. Ironically, the grounding of the Comet, gave Boeing the opening it needed to get the 707 into extensive service.

Production of the 787 continues but deliveries have been suspended by Boeing. The last groundings of an aircraft by the FAA was of the DC-10 in 1979 for a month, after crash in Chicago.


Air India  -27 ordered.  Six grounded on Thursday

Air India grounded their planes  after instructions from India’s  Director General of Civil Aviation. The airline noted that they have had none of the battery problems that ANA, JAL and United have had. At a Press Conference on Friday,  India’s Civil Aviation Minister said Friday that Air India will seek “some kind of compensation” The Minister said Boeing is liable. He also indicated that the airline is still seeking delivery of their remaning order. Air India said it would use other planes on its scheduled 787 flights.


ANA:  50 ordered. 17 grounded on Wednesday

All Nippon Airways grounded their fleet on Wednesday after instruments on flight 692 from Yamaguchi to Tokyo  indicated a battery error. ANA said a smell was detected in the cockpit and the cabin, and pilots received emergency warning of smoke in the forward electronic compartment. After the incident last week on Boston where a JAL 787 had a fire on board, the airline took no chances. The plane made an emergency landing and all 129 passengers and eight crew were evacuated via the plane’s inflatable slides


Ethiopian Airlines: 10 ordered. Four grounded Thursday 

Ethiopian Airlines said they ” have not encountered the type of problems such as those experienced by the other operators. However, as an extra precautionary safety measure and in line with its commitment of putting safety above all else, Ethiopian has decided to pull out its four Dreamliners from operation,” They were the last of the 787 operators to ground their planes.


JAL: 45 ordered. Seven grounded Wednesday

Japan Airlines  grounded their fleet until at least until 25 January. The carrier will be deploying  767s and 777s on 787 flights and has also cancelled services on its Tokyo -San Diego route.

LAN Airlines -three grounded Wednesday

LAN followed the FAA directive and its planes were grounded after United’s.


LOT Polish Airlines: Eight ordered. Two grounded Wednesday. 

The timing of the announcement was unfortunate and bizarre for LOT. A 787 was en route on its maiden from Warsaw Chicago flight.  It never made the return trip and is now stranded in the USA. LOT Airlines have said they will seek compensation from Boeing for the grounding.


Qatar Airways: 30 ordered. Five grounded Thursday

I would love to be a fly on the wall of the office of Akbar Al Baker  the Qatar Airway’s CEO. He has already been very unhappy about the delays and technical problems associated with the 787. His official statement this week said:  “In light of recent events surrounding the Boeing 787 Dreamliner worldwide, we are actively working with Boeing and the regulators to restore full customer confidence in the 787. Qatar Airways will resume 787 operations when we are clear that the aircraft meets the full requirements of the Airworthiness Directive and our standards which assure the safety of our passengers and crew at all times.”
The grounding puts in doubt the airline’s planned February 1 launch of a Doha to Perth 787 service.

United Airlines: 50 Ordered. Six grounded Wednesday

Twelve hours after the Japanese fleets were grounded, the US regulators announcement came and United was the third airline keeping their planes earth bound.

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Ten Worst Airlines- 2012 [Updated]

Posted on: December 27th, 2012 by: Martin J Cowling

I am often asked which airlines are best avoided.  Having flown for over 3040 hours (0ver 18 weeks of my life!) with 83 airlines, there are some clear differences between the best and the worst! I rate each flight I take for every factor from Booking to Check in to deplaning. and keep a tally of my rating using  The scores averaged out give me the ranking of flights, airlines and airports. I have placed my score for each airline next to the airline name.

Here is my list for of the 2012 worst airlines, starting from the worst at number 1:

1. Ryanair -19%

Ireland: 1984. Fleet:  305 Destinations: 164 Employees: 8,388.  Skytrax Rating: 2 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 35%

Every year I hope Ryanair will get a little better. Not a chance in 2012. Grumpy crews, crowded planes, non-transparent fares, and a “you are on your own if we mess up” attitude. Don’t take my word for it: Ryanair was recently voted Europe’s least popular short-haul airline by the readers of the British consumer publication  My favourite reason not to like them: Covalence rates them as one of the most unethical companies in the world. Which?. I get the impression from the CEO down that passengers are to be treated like sheep being herded from one out of the way airport to another.


2.Air Zimbabwe – 20%

Zimbabwe: 1967 Fleet:  9? Destinations: 9?  Employees: 1,234? Skytrax Rating: Star Ranking suspended   Skytrax Passenger Rating: 28%

For most of the year, they were grounded. They now have a new plane and lots of legroom (LOL) Staff vary from friendly to grumpy but are not overly motivated (no pay for months may impact this). My two best memories were two cockroaches climbing the wall of the plane on the Harare bound flight as we took off and the other was the Flight Attendant recommending us not to fly with AirZim again!


3. Spirit Air-

USA: 1980 Fleet:  45 Destinations: 57  Employees: 2,580 Skytrax Rating: 3 star airline.  Skytrax Passenger Rating: 20%

Upfront,  I never actually got to fly  Spirit in 2012, as the only flight I was to have had with them was cancelled. The cancellation occurred, as I arrived at the airport. I switched to another carrier rather than wait 24 hours for the alternative flight.  However, an airline that charges up to one hundred dollars for a carry on bag has some serious issues. As one customer says: Truly the worst domestic airline experience I’ve ever had.


4. Tiger Airways – 27%

Singapore: 2004 Fleet:  19 Destinations: 28  Employees: 2,580 Skytrax Rating: 3 star airline.  Skytrax Passenger Rating: 37%

Australia: 2007.  Fleet:  11 Destinations: 8

Tiger operates as Tiger Airways Australia and Tiger Airways Singapore. I hate Tiger. Period. Now that Virgin have taken over Tiger Australia, it will be interesting to see what changes in Australia.


5. Air China -28%

China: 1988  Fleet:  293 Destinations: 185  Employees: 24,474 Skytrax Rating: 4 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 50%

Not to be confused with China Airlines. Air China is mainland China based and China Airlines is Taiwanese. Skytrax made Air China  four star in 2011. I think the carrier missed the memo- old planes, old cabins, old seats, old food.  Skytrax  passenger forums are full of passengers saying “not recommended”. Where Air China really excel is when something goes wrong: you are on your own.


6. China Eastern -29%

China: 1988  Fleet:  302 Destinations: 110  Employees: 60, 000 Skytrax Rating: 3 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 50%

Every time, I look at airfare comparison sites, China Eastern offers flights at prices way, way below other carriers. Before you are  tempted to book, consider my favourite quote about this airline from a customer:  “China Eastern still don’t understand customer service“. I agree. Inconsistent meals, bland food, limited entertainment and very delayed flights will make you regret every cent you saved


7. Alitalia -30%

Italy: 19 Sep 1946 then  13 Jan 2009 Fleet:  112 Destinations: 86  Employees: ?  Skytrax Rating: 3 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 45%

Italy is home to some of the chicest things on the planet- just do not expect much chic on an Alitalia plane. Italians can be some of the warmest, most fun and most hospitable people on the planet- you just won’t find them amongst the demoralised Alitalia staff. Universally rude staff from reservations to check-in to on board. Italian cuisine is some of the most delicious on the planet – just don’t expect  it to be served to you on an Alitalia plane. Lavatories never seem to be cleaned mid flight and are some of the most putrid aloft


8. United Airlines -58%

USA: 30 June, 1927 Fleet:  706 Destinations: 378  Employees: 85,000  Skytrax Rating: 3 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 45%

The merger with Continental has brought a few improvements but flying with United is rarely a pleasurable experience.  I wonder sometimes if I delight in hating United? I did give them 5 out of 5 for an Indianapolis to Newark flight this year. JD Power in a June 2013, survey claimed that United were the second worst airline in North America. They gave the worst to USAir (who I for the first time have moved out of my top ten worst airlines!

9. American Airlines- 60%

USA: 1930 Fleet:  605 Destinations: 260  Employees: 78,000  Skytrax Rating: 3 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 36%

More demoralised staff sharing their unhappy attitude with their unhappy passengers. Combine that with uncomfortable seats, old planes and disappointing food. Having said that, of the 29 hours spent flying American this year (one day of my year effectively inside their aircraft), one hour of it (LAX to SFO) I actually described as a pleasant experience giving them 4 out of 5 for it!). JD Power nominated them as the third worst of North America’s Traditional carriers.


10. Air Asia – 63%

Malaysia: 2000. Fleet:  101 Destinations: 88  Employees: 8,000  Skytrax Rating: 3 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 76%

My business partner swears by Air Asia but I  don’t  like them.  The airline IS cheap. It operates with one of the world’s lowest unit costs. What are you prepared to give up to save on money?   Unless you fly Premium, there is nothing on board for you. Disabled people claim the airline does nothing to assist them. There is also a difference between their “Air Asia X” and “Air Asia” product with X being better. Frankly, I have to be honest, I don’t feel safe aboard them.  Their on time performance is at 86% on time for arrivals. Still someone, keeps voting for them as world’s best low cost carrierahead of the brilliant Virgin America.


10. Jetstar-63%

Australia: 2003. Fleet:  68 Destinations: 35 Employees: 7,000  Skytrax Rating: 3 star airline. Skytrax Passenger Rating: 55%

Australia’s favourite low cost airline -but not mine. Their Premium Product makes their experience much more bearable but I do all I can to avoid Jetstar.  The airline  often cancels and delays flights -without explanation. Airstats says only 72% of their flight arrivals are on time.  On board catering is not very exciting and entertainment consists of DVD  players that you can rent. The job of the cabin crew is to sell you all of the things that airlines used to give you for free:  snacks, drinks and blankets. The airline is so unpopular with some that it has a Don’t  fly Jetstar webpage dedicated to it.


 I am not including North Korea’s one star airline Air Koryo on this list. The only time you will encounter them is if you fly into that state and I have yet to have that experience!. I would also not be in a hurry to fly Garuda Indonesian, most African carriers, Saudi Arabian,  Egyptair or Aeroflot but have not tried them either.
My Top Ten airlines coming Saturday!

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Trip Report: American- LAX to SFO


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