Vote of the week: The worst airline in America?

July 9, 2009, 7:13 PM · The hot viral travel video of the week has been a Canadian band's smack-down of United Airlines for breaking one of its guitars, and not paying for it.

This made me wonder... how hard would it be for an airline to say, "New policy: Any baggage handler - or other airline employee - caught throwing luggage will be fired. No exceptions. Just pick it up and place it where it needs to go."

I know I'd go out of my way to book on an airline that instituted this policy. Baggage handlers don't like it? Tough. I'd bet there would be 100 applicants waiting for any job a baggage handler quit or struck over such a policy.

Many of us fly to theme park vacations. (Or for other, lesser obligations, like, say... work.) In your experience, which airline has been the worst for service - whether it's busting your luggage, leaving you stuck on the tarmac, consistently canceling or delaying flights or generally jerking you around? (I'm sticking with the top U.S.-based airlines here. Haters of Ryanair and other non-U.S. carriers are welcome in the comments.)

Let's hear your worst airline horror story, in the comments.

Replies (27)

July 9, 2009 at 7:28 PM · Air Tran.

The worst plane ride I have ever been on with bad seats, literally walk forever to get to the gate, and no pillows.

July 9, 2009 at 7:28 PM · This is as difficult a vote as "best roller coaster" in that most of us have not flown all of these airlines to be able to give an opinion.

In reality, they are all a necessary evil - they all suck!

July 9, 2009 at 7:35 PM · Was flying from Burbank, CA to Richmond, VA (via Phoenix and Charlotte) for Christmas one year. The inbound plane for my outbound flight from Burbank could not land due to high winds, even though several other airlines had no problem landing their planes. The plane was diverted to LAX.

All the passengers were instructed to go to baggage claim, re-claim our bags, then pick up a transportation voucher for a cab ride to LAX, where we would catch our flight to PHX.

After a 50 minute ride, we started arriving at LAX and the USAirways reps did not understand why we were there. After trying to explain it to them and telling them to contact USAirways at BUR, they decided to let us through security with out BUR boarding passes. Of course they did not tell security this information immediately.

Then we all get to the gate, at which they decide to re-issue the boarding passes so they all say LAX-PHX. Meanwhile the clock is ticking for all of us to catch the final connections from PHX.

Needless to say, everyone missed their connections, and after an argument with the agents, we all got hotel rooms. The next morning I was on a flight and arrived only 6 hours later than originally scheduled.

July 9, 2009 at 8:33 PM · I haven't had any major problems with airlines...only Orbitz. I booked a flight home for the weekend. Since I live in a small town, the local airport has an inconvenient schedule. I was supposed to arrive at my home airport and on the return leg drive to a different airport to leave. Anyway, I booked the complicated flight plan on Orbitz...then a couple weeks later, my home airport closed. Instead of notifying me of the change, Orbitz cancelled my whole itinerary without telling me! The only reason I found out was because I found a refund on the credit card (except for the Orbitz booking fee). After numerous calls to customer support both through the airline (US Airways) and Orbitz, it was US Airways gave me a deal using frequent flier miles. I eventually got the Orbitz booking fee back, right after I vowed to never use Orbitz again.
July 9, 2009 at 10:33 PM · I guess I have been lucky in my travels. I have only had one problem in my flying history. Upon returning home from California, I had connecting flights with American. There was a mix-up in Denver and my luggage didn't arrive in New York until the next day. That was the worst thing that has ever happened to me.

I have had a habit of flying airlines that would end up going defunct. My first trip to Florida was on Pan-Am. My subsequent trips were on Eastern. When Eastern disappeared, I flew TWA everywhere. I now happily fly jetblue, so they better watch out.

I feel that the airlines, for the most part, are all adequate. There are inherent problems with the industry that befall all the carriers. However, for the most part, they get the job done.

July 10, 2009 at 1:37 AM · I'd participate, but I can't afford to fly. Which is OK, since I can't afford to go anywhere. [sigh]
July 10, 2009 at 5:45 AM · I have flown on most of these for business travel which meant a carry on and only having to worry about me, myself, and I. I have had great flights with all of them and I have had terrible flights with all of them. I have had great service and poor service. I can't pick just one that really has been consistent in failing to take care of things or delivering the best experience.
July 10, 2009 at 5:57 AM · I was scheduled to fly to Chicago from Kansas City on a Wednesday at 6:50 AM on AA. This was a business tip to meet with one of our export packaging companies. I got an automated call at 11:59 PM Tuesday. The automated message said I had been rescheduled to a 10:30 AM flight. My return flight was at 3:00 PM on Wednesday, which was not changed. The was to arrive at just after noon. Which by the time you get out of the airport, travel through Chicago to the offices, it would have been time to check back in for my return flight. I was furious to say the least. I should mention that this was during the time that AA was canceling fights to fix the wiring, which they failed to properly inspect on their routine maintenance. This was the day of the second go around for flight cancellations. There is no way in my mind that they did not know until 11:59 PM that they were canceling the flight. I called the 800 number they had left, wait time "Over Two Hours." I called Travelocity, whom I had booked through, and asked them to honor their flight guarantee, which says that if your flight is canceled within 24 hours of leaving, they will deal with the airline and get you a ticket on another airline. The lady first told me, in her broken English, "there is nothing we can do." Then she just hung up. I called back, asking to speak to a supervisor, who told me that they could not do anything I could do and I should call the 800 number and wait on the line. I told her that they had an obligation to me, from their guarantee, to do what it takes for them to resolve it. So I made them wait on the phone with AA and call me when they had gotten another plane that would land around the same time as my original or my money completely refunded, including the Travelocity booking charge. I received a call at 4:30 AM telling me that the money would be refunded. Pathetic customer service on both AA's and Travelocity's parts. I have not used or flown with either since.
I have traveled quite a bit, and I would say the best on the list is Southwest(my favorite overall is Singapore Airlines, Houston to Moscow). You don't expect much for a low price fare, but the staff is content and somewhat helpful.
I would like a company like Ryan Air in Europe. Their customer service is terrible, but it is cheap. London to Pisa for $10. Most of their flights are below $50. You pay a cheap price, not much customer service, if fact their customer service complaint line is a 900 number, you pay $2 a min to complain about the service.... But most people I have talked to say they still like it, because you are not paying much, so you don't expect much.
July 10, 2009 at 6:34 AM · Ive been on continental, delta, jetblue, southwest, american, and us airways. Ive got to say us airways and american are the worst flights ive ever been on. Jetblue and southwest are some of the best especially jetblue. Delta isnt that bad in my opinion and neither is continental. However jet blue will remain my favorite for most traveling and southwest for orlando
July 10, 2009 at 6:50 AM · Air Canada

Any time I can, I avoid flying. Air Canada has a track record with our family. We fly at least once a year with them, and with the exception of one vacation, they have screwed up every time. They almost always lose our luggage. Their flights are almost always delayed.

Sometimes, when we fly in January or February, one of the engines freezes or the wings will have too much frost for takeoff. We're in Canada, damnit, don't they have methods for preventing this?

Once they emergency-landed the plane because a kid dropped his iPod in the toilet, asked a stewardess for help, and they thought it was a terrorist threat.

July 10, 2009 at 7:42 AM · I have never had a real problem, besides an hour delay on Southwest once. And that's just to be expected of any airline. Delays happen, and you can't just magic a plane out of thin air.

I generally flew Air Tran and Southwest from Orlando to the Baltimore/DC Metro Area and I can't really complain. They're both budget carriers and as long as you go in with budget expectations, you'll be fine.

July 10, 2009 at 8:51 AM · I never really had a problem with any airline. And I fly atleast 2 roundtrips a year. I do have a problem with some the TSA security checkpoints. Some of these agents are too stupid (like telling someone in a wheelchair to standup at a checkpoint when they only got 1 leg). YES i seen them do that. And the whole "take off your shoes" thing is the stupidest thing I seen.
July 10, 2009 at 9:30 AM · Let me Dumb it down for you all. If I land safely, I am happy with the Airlineā€¦
July 10, 2009 at 9:38 AM · I've had some horrible flights over the years on American and United, which are made all the worst due to the normally higher costs of those two airlines. Southwest doesn't have a lot of amenities, but the staff is always friendly and the fares are great bargains. My current favorite is Virgin America since they have great low fares, but also nicer seats, a great entertainment system, and much better food.
July 10, 2009 at 11:00 AM · where is the "all of the above" option?
July 10, 2009 at 11:59 AM · We had booked an 11:58am flight on Delta for Sep 2007 back in Feb 2007. One day in July by chance I decided to check online to make sure everything was ok and noticed that our flight had been moved to a 7am flight.

At the time my youngest was under 2 years old and we were to fly out of an airport whose policy is that you should be there at least 90mins early. I live 45 mins from the airport so I would have to have left my house around 4:30am. I called Delta to explain that this was unacceptable and they told me there was a 12:01pm flight that they could move me to...3 minutes later than my original flight. Luckily we switched.

So I asked them why they didn't notify me and they told me it was their policy to wait until about 30 days before the flight before they notify you. I kept checking and noticed that about 2 weeks after I switched my booking that the flight was full. Had I waited for them to notify me I would have had no choice but to take the early am flight.

I asked why they wouldn't have moved me to the flight 3 mins later and they said since my original flight was in the AM that the system automatically re-books another AM flight...I have flown Southwest in the 4 flights I've taken to FLA since.

July 10, 2009 at 1:24 PM · I'm happy to see Air Tran didn't get many votes. We're using them for our flight to Orlando next month, and we've never flown with them before.
July 10, 2009 at 1:45 PM · I think it depends on what you expect from your airlines and which ones you have actually been on. United and American are pretty high, but I am guessing they are the two popular ones and probably on the higher end.

While I am not a fan of Air Tran, the tickets were still very affordable. I got what I paid for I guess, but when you don't pay much, don't expect much.

July 10, 2009 at 2:21 PM · Worst experience, I can think of was having a suit bag run over by a baggage handling truck. They airline didn't even apologize for doing it. The clothes were pretty messed up.
July 10, 2009 at 3:01 PM · IMHO, all airlines are horrible and steal your money. They easily get away with it because they found a way to do it legally. That is by charging you so much for baggage. Then, you can't even bring food on, because it's a "bomb hazard". In reality, I just think they just are trying to get you to buy their food. This needs to be stopped.
July 10, 2009 at 6:43 PM · We were flying home from Detroit after my Grandmother's funneral on K-mart Air - uh- Northwest. We had boarded, no problem, then they pulled the Jetway away from the plane and we continued to seat there; after about 20 minutes the "voice" came on the speakers saying that there would be a delay in our take -off due to a minor technical difficulty - sound familiar? We continued to seat there and oh yeah it was in August in the late afternoon and the plane was on the west side of the terminal and my family was seating on the west side of the plane. 10 minutes later the AC shuts off and the "voice" says that they need to replace a part and we should be underway shortly, but they need to shut off the AC to conserve the power. By this time the side of the plane is heating up and I'm starting to sweat profusely, the attendants start giving out those small cups of water and ice, trying to make the best of it. After another 30 minutes of this the "voice" explains that the mechanics are working as quickly as they can and they may have to go to the main parts storage to get the needed part. Another 30 minutes and the voice announces that the plane cannot be reconnected with the Jetway as we would lose our take off status and as soon as we are airborn the toilets can be openned up. Oh yeah they have to go to the main parts storage to get the part. Another 10 minutes passes and the "voice" announces that the mechanics have the part and are returning to get it installed. Finally 10 minutes later the "voice" says we are ready to go and are cleared to continue on our way to the runway. That was before the baggage hauler ran into the fuel truck next to the right wing of the plane. No big explosions or anything dramatic. But we had to seat there for another 50 minutes before they moved the vehicles and we could get underway. All for the want of a toggle switch . . .
July 10, 2009 at 9:43 PM · Brandon S, you can bring food on the plane and pass the check point. And you can bring your own drink on the plane. However with the drinks, the only catch is that you must buy it at a airport store after the checkpoint. And thats the Airport making money, not the airlines.
July 11, 2009 at 6:24 AM · It's especially unnerving for a musician to fly with their gear. First, many of us look...let's just say different, than anyone else. Second, we carry strange looking pieces of luggage. Guitar cases, road cases full of pedals and other non-traditional electronic equipment, cymbal bags, and more. Overzealous airline workers can easily get the wrong impression if you know what I mean, so carrying this stuff on isn't really much of an option anymore. When the thousands of dollars of equipment goes into the hands of the airline workers, all one can do is hope that they see it on the other side in one piece...or at all for that matter. Not only is there a show to play or a song to record on the other side, but it's really not cool to find thousands of dollars worth of your stuff either missing or broken.

I would go ballistic if I saw some schmoe baggage handler throwing around a guitar of mine like that. In fact it's likely that I would be detained for being a "terrorist threat" in the terminal while I "talked" to management. The solution for this band? Shockproof foam lined flight cases instead of regular cases. Of course I'm sure that they've already looked into that by now. Better to make things idiot-proof and save the aggravation.

I wonder if United responded to this at all.

July 11, 2009 at 1:46 PM · I won't be voting as have only flown with Continental. I was very impressed by the service. I flew with them in Nov 2007 and in May 2009, both trips were returns from Manchester to New York and all four flights were on time. I was also impressed at how much the planes had been modernised between 2007 and 2009 with meal choices and touch screen movie selection. My mum has also flown with them a few times previously and has also flown with Delta. She found Delta planes to be nicer and more modern at the time, but experienced some longish delays flying with Delta and none with Continental. I have recommended them to friends and would definitley fly with them again.
July 11, 2009 at 2:08 PM ·, I had a similar experience with Northwest. This is both an airport and airline story, but Northwest was really awful in this experience.It was August 2005, and I was returning from World Youth Day in Germany. In Dusseldorf going through security, both the girl in front of me and myself had bought the same exact kind of cuckoo-clock and both went through one after the other. Apparently they judged her clock to be fine, but I was taken to a room where my clock was wiped with a little circular cloth, I suppose to test for drugs. They let my clock and I go when it tested negative, and on we went. We flew into Amsterdam on KLM (Northwest's partner in Europe) and the flight was fine, but when we were taken off the plane, half our group got on the first bus to the terminal, where they let us off at a particular place. Of course, the second bus never showed, and we worried about the two. We eventually caught up with them near Customs, where we found out they had been dropped off at another location. When we get to the gate for our flight after customs, we have to answer questions from some US representative, and then go through another special security spot in the gate area. One girl is questioned about her nail care set, as they think she has scissors on it. She has to open everything up to show the scissors aren't there. When we finally get on the Northwest plane to fly to Detroit, it is stifling hot. We are told that they can't turn the air on until they start moving forward, for whatever reason. It seems to take forever, and I stupidly forgot to fill my water all the way before getting on. They move backwards for the longest time until finally, moving forward we get our cool air and the plane takes off. After an uneventful flight, we land in Detroit. Again we go through customs, and again at a security checkpoint (how we would have gotten something inappropriate on the plane after the security checkpoint right at the gate, I have no idea) the same girl is questioned about her nonexistent scissors. Aside from that (and my cuckoo clock friend failing to get one of her stamps), we get through pretty quickly. There are several hours before our flight to Cleveland, so we explore the airport. (I bought a big bottle of water too.) The flight is then delayed several times, until at last it arrives late. We get on the plane pretty quickly, though we are still past the time we should have left. That's when the fun starts again. Some may recall that at that particular time, Northwest mechanics were on strike. So, we are unable to take off because of a problem. I don't know if they said what the whole problem was, but they mentioned the word weld, and that freaked me out. It probably took almost an hour for whatever it was to be fixed, and we were stuck in our seats the whole time, with one water service by the crew. By the time we finally were off and landed in Cleveland, we figured that if we had driven from Detroit after customs, we would have gotten to Cleveland by the time the flight had landed, if not sooner. All in all, it was the most taxing airline experience ever. So in my own experience, Northwest is the worst.
July 12, 2009 at 11:45 AM · I voted for US Air, in that they're now the larger version of America Worst, um, I mean America West. They continue to earn incredibly poor ratings from me everytime I'm on board, and while "pleasure" is surely the wrong word, it seems fitting that "my" choice is on the top of the list as of this writing (or the bottom of the list, depending upon your viewpoint).
July 14, 2009 at 8:27 AM · I can't vote in the poll, but I would say overall US Airways is the worst.

I do, however, have an Airtran horror story. I was flying from Tampa to Portland, ME around Memorial Day weekend a couple of years ago, and we had to switch in Baltimore. Our flight up was on a Thursday. We made it to Baltimore just fine, but thanks to a 20min rainstorm, our flight out to Portland was delayed for a couple of hours and then eventually cancelled. Airtran said they'd rebook us.

On Saturday.

We ended up renting a car and driving the rest of the way to Maine, and after lots of complaining, got reimbursed for the rental as well as refunded our leg from Baltimore to Portland.

From now on, if I'm flying to Maine (where my family is from) from FL, I will do my best to get a direct flight. Jetblue and Airtran sometimes have them, but it's seasonal.

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