Airline Travel Best and Worst

Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson is greeted by two Canadian Mounties upon arrival in Toronto during Virgin America’s first Int’l flight celebrations to Toronto, June 29, 2010. (Canadian Press Photo/Virgin America, Bob Riha, Jr.)

Virgin America, the California-based airline that is reinventing travel, last week took the top honors for the third year running as “Best Domestic Airline” in the prestigious Travel + Leisure, World’s Best Awards readers’ survey.

“We’re honored to receive the highest marks from Travel + Leisure’s readers for the third year in a row,” said Virgin America President and Chief Executive Officer David Cush. “There are many surveys that attempt to rank airline quality that are paid or that exclude smaller carriers, but this award confirms that we’re continuing to lead the U.S. industry and hit the mark with savvy consumers. As we enter our fourth year of operations, the win is a testament to our unique product and the dedication of our entrepreneurial team.”

It comes as no surpise to me that Virgin would take this award. I recently flew Delta and American Airlines in the US and was left speechless, aghast and angry at the aggressive, uninterested and inattentive service I received from check-in to disembarkment. At one point, during my re-routed Delta flight to Atlanta, I spied a very happy, interested and energized check-in gal at the Virgin counter warmly welcoming their clients and guests with such flare and sheer enjoyment that I contemplated buying a Virgin plane ticket for my final destination of San Diego.

Sir Richard Branson with Drake on the Toronto touch-down of one of Virgin America’s first Toronto flights – June 29, 2010

It was extremely evident to me during my AA and Delta flights that their employees were tired, complacent, angry and exuding a “that’s not my job” attitude. My return American flight ran out of paid food by the time they got to my row. They had not stocked enough Canadian Customs forms for their passengers. They proceeded to blame the Canadian Government for not providing enough forms for their flights and their passengers—the flight was one quarter full.

Did I mention that I had to pay $25.00US to check my bag with American? $35 for my second?

Like Canada’s WestJet, Virgin appears to be employing a much younger, hipper demographic which is in keeping with the company’s California roots. Virgin America’s in-flight and airport staff training includes a special focus on delivering concierge-like guest care. This is extremely evident.

AA and Delta’s employees seem stuck in an 80’s type mentality; a typical ‘trolley-dolly’ attitude that just won’t continue to cut it with today’s travel-savvy customers.

Consistent was the reply from all Delta employees from curb check-in to flight attendants to baggage claim when I grumpily commented that “well my day would have been better if you hadn’t cancelled my original flight to San Diego”. Every response: “Well, I didn’t cancel your flight…” After the third time hearing this, I simply laughed out loud. No Delta employee asked, probed or took any kind of responsibility for their company’s underperformance. Not even a free beer or unavailable cheese plate. The mean age of both airlines’ employees seemed, to my own older eye, to hover around 52 to 60 with a keen and tired view well focused on shorter haul flights and an early retirement package waiting for them at the end of the runway.

Even our own venerable National Carrier has won some recent awards: June 2010
Readers of Executive Travel magazine selected Air Canada as “Best Airline for Flights to Canada” in annual “Leading Edge Awards” readership survey of frequent international travelers, for a third consecutive year and in May 2010, was named “Best Airline North America” in a worldwide survey of more than 17 million air travelers conducted by research firm Skytrax.

Oh how I wished I had flown Air Canada to the US last month, but my need to be in San Diego at a specific time forced me to deal with Delta and AA. Never again.

The complete Travel + Leisure 2010 results, including the Top 100 Hotels Overall and Top 10 Cities Overall, are featured on now and in Travel + Leisure’s August issue, available on newsstands July 23.

Travel well, my friends.

NOTE: Virgin America is a U.S.-controlled and operated airline and is an entirely separate company from Virgin Atlantic. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group is a minority share investor in Virgin America.

About The Author

Greg George

An avid local and international explorer, Greg George has travelled extensively in Europe, Australia, India, Turkey, Thailand, Bali, Brazil, Argentina and St. Marys, Ontario. In 2004, he and his partner quit their jobs, sold their house, dumped the car and travelled around the world for the year, following the sun visiting 26 countries in 12 months. You can read their daily blog of the trials and travails of living out of two suitcases, a computer bag and camera case at Next stop on his wish list? Newfoundland. Favourite Place in Toronto: An early, on the way to work, sunny spring morning walk through St. James Park.

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3 Responses

  1. TravelGreg

    Hey VT: Yes, many people had said that: Planning on booking my next flight to LA or San Fran from Toronto on Virgin.
    Travel Well!

  2. Virgin Traveler

    I had the pleasure of traveling Virgin for business a few weeks ago. The service was superb, the flight comfortable and there were no hitches at all. I’d recommend all the way.


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