After having taken my flight from San Francisco to Dubai, I thought it might be worthwhile to reflect a few moments on the flying experience. What is it like to fly these days, especially on those flights that take many hours (San Francisco to Dubai is 16 hours)? A pretty incredibly mixed experience.
Starting with the best of my experience: Emirates. An airline on which I can accrue United miles, but wow... quite a difference. First, the airplane. It is clean. It has television screens at every seat that have an unbelievable number of movies and channels. It is fairly comfortable in economy - one of the few airlines where I don't start with my knees in the seat in front of me prior to full recline of the person in front of me (who is usually about 5 foot 5) immediately after the start of the flight. And, Emirates has good, edible food. Something I'll talk more about later. The staff has been courteous and helpful every step of the way, asking me often during the flight if there was something more I needed. I arrived in Dubai rested.
Then, since I arrived in Dubai in the evening, and my flight to Dar es Salaam leaves in the morning, they put me up in a hotel in Dubai for free, with coupons for dinner, breakfast, and in case I couldn't sleep, a snack at any time during the night. And the buffets at the hotel were very good. The bed was comfortable, and it was fantastic to lay flat and get more sleep. In the morning, they shuttled me back to the airport.
Unfortunately, my flight to Dar es Salaam is late. So, Emirates is offering a free lunch to everyone on the flight. See if Delta or United offer that without prompting. Not likely. So here I am in a nice restaurant at the Dubai airport, having lunch, courtesy of Emirates. Again.
In recent experience, the second best is Turkish Air. Also nice people, and they also serve respectably good food on their flights if a tad tight in the seat department. They might about tie with KLM, which also offers a great selection of movies at each seat monitor, and also offers good food.
The opposite end of the spectrum? Delta, hands down. International flying with Delta looks remarkably like the awful service and nearly inedible food they offer (if they offer any) on their domestic flights. Call it 11 hours on a flying Greyhound. Most of their issues appear to be systematic, and less about the staff one meets on the flights (although clearly some are quite stressed). Trying to get credit for affiliated airline flights on KLM, which should have been automatic given tickets were purchased on the delta.com website with my frequent flier number, turned out to be a ridiculous exercise that took months of going back and forth, being told I would be credited, only to find the flight, once again, listed in my activity followed by zeroes. The flights incidentally, were purchased with allowable ticketing codes. It eventually happened, but the amount of effort was silly.
United has certainly had its ups and downs, as has United Germany (a.k.a., Lufthansa... they are so alike these days, it seems hard to discriminate much difference). Food is a notch or two above Delta, which is immensely appreciated. Although, when did United start charging for alcohol on international flights? I was shocked to be charged for wine with dinner, which I've never encountered before on an international flight, including Lufthansa. After a long trip to Turkey and Greece, during which my frequent flier number never got in the system (not the airline's fault), I came home to find that United has a completely online system for credits for their flights and ALL the Star Alliance partners. That's a lot of airlines. And it works. Are you listening, Delta?
You get used to the bare bones of flying domestic in the United States these days. OK. But when they have me for long-haul international flights, I do expect a little more effort. United has gotten better in some ways, but still has a long way to meet the international competition. For the time being, I will continue to fly non-US airlines whenever possible.