View Full Version : Transatlantic flights - experiences and advice
30th Jul 2012, 19:31
Hi, my first post so please be gentle with me...
I fly to the US from London a few times a year for work, always economy class sadly, and I'm about to book my next trip, which will be to Charlotte, NC.
My options seem quite limited, with only US Airways flying direct. I'm happy to change planes in the US, especially if it means I can depart from LHR rather than LGW, but wondered if it's worth it in terms of the flying experience.
I've previously flown to the US with BA, Virgin, Air Canada, and Delta - and couldn't put much between the first and last of that foursome to be honest. Is it now the case that when you're sat in the back there's not so much in it these days? My options for this trip seem to be - US / United / KLM / Delta - any advice or experiences of these carriers would be much appreciated!
30th Jul 2012, 23:29
Hi Skylar, welcome to the cabin. :) (OK, that's all the slack used up ;))
Slight dogleg, so will depend on time and cost: Air Canada?
Slight dogleg, so will depend on time and cost: LHR to MUC with Lufthansa and then direct to CLT?
Two changes is Air Lingus (at DUB you become a domestic pax for US) and change again in the US, so depends on cost and time?
31st Jul 2012, 04:07
I'm afraid you're caught between a rock and a hard place, old chap.
As a seasoned long haul traveller (every month, often more) my two (three) rules are:
1. Never use a US carrier.
2. Never connect in the US unless it's outbound.
All US carriers suck. They are absolutely terrible - old planes, old grumpy personnel, bad service, bad food and they will lose your luggage at their hub. Their Business Class is like Economy on any of the newer "new world" carriers. All the seats will still have ash trays, promise.
Since the 9/11 paranoia set in, all incoming US connections have to pick up the luggage and re-check it. This means the whole bloody security rigmarole all over, but worse, once you hit US soil. Shoes, belts, the lot ("Sir, please put your Ipad on a separate tray!!"). No luggage is allowed to check through directly. This adds about 1-2hrs to your connection time on top of the 1-2hrs you'll spend doing immigration and running in endless hub corridors with filthy wall-to-wall carpets. Yeah, that's right - no transit without immigration either.
My third rule is:
3. Always go direct, if possible. Always.
So, as you can see, in this case you're stuck with probably the worst US airline except for AirTran (and that's up against some stiff competition, lemme tell ya), or, having to add another 4hrs and get humiliated and given the sweaty TSA runaround at some godforsaken US hub. In this case I would chose to go with US Airways direct, even though they suck big mammals through garden hoses, since your alternatives are equally bad. KLM suck, United suck, Delta suck (but if you have to pick one US carrier to go international with, they're prob the least bad). Your agony will then at least only last as long as the flight, and not go on for another 8 hrs, potentially.
Can you afford maybe to upgrade to Premium Economy if they have it? That might take some of the abysmal horror out of US Airways.
31st Jul 2012, 05:22
Unfortunately for you I think AdamFrisch has nailed it. I fly between the US and UK fairly frequently, usually with AA but recently a few times with BA due to their new codeshare agreement with AA. I would rather fly BA than AA but that just shows how bad AA have become. I flew United once but never again and colleagues that have flown with US abhor them. I don't know about KLM. Like Adam, I've believe Delta are probably the best of the US carriers but that is not saying very much at all.
So, unless you can find something else like PAXboy suggests, the direct option would be what I would choose even if it's with the most miserable of carriers. That way you'll prevent many hours of further misery at the airport and on a domestic US flight. For instance, earlier this month I flew LHR-ORD-LAX and got held up at ORD in the immigration hall because their computers broke down. Two hours in that hell with nowhere to sit and the air conditioning not coping with the heat is not something I want to deal with again plus it very nearly made me miss the onward flight. Even if things had gone smoothly it's not a pleasant experience, so the direct option is always best in my opinion. If I'd flown directly on that occasion I would have been in LAX at about the same time I was just going through security again in ORD to get on my onward connection.
31st Jul 2012, 08:25
I think the general rule is Middle East/Far East > European > Us
Transfers in the US are always going to be unpleasant but once you know the drill they can become routine
My advice is choose one carrier or alliance and join the frequent flyer program. The miles are just money but they can be used to upgrade, but the tier points are more important, it isn't that difficult to get to BA silver where lots of benefits kick in.
31st Jul 2012, 09:30
I can add a bit to this debate as I spend a large part of the last year living and working in the USA with regular commutes back to blighty.
Agreed Delta is the best of the terrible selection of US airlines. Avoid Atlanta and Washington Dulles like the plague. My experience is that Detroit and Boston are too bad as hubs and I've only once had a problem in Chicago O'Hare and that's over many, many connecting flights over 8/9 years.
Allow plenty of time for idiotic conversations, bag searching, demeaning undressing etc. with the TSA and Immigration. Prepare to be insulted and if someone is actually pleasant to you try not to be too shocked.
Contrary to what others say, the US airlines have a mix of new and old aircraft alike. The problem is that they sweat their assets hard so the wear and tear takes it toll and they don't maintain the interiors that well.
In my experience taking purely internal routes on US airlines, about 50% of flights are late more than 30 minutes and about 20% late by more than 60 minutes. At virtually all US airports except the local feeder airports expect misery and you won't be disappointed.
try and use a non-US airline if at all possible, even if it means a connection
avoid known bad hubs and try and route yourself through the ones you know aren't too bad
try and identify the few 'least bad' US airlines to use for your connections
use the local feeder airports if possible, as the service is much better and it's often far easier than driving to a big hub and checking in there.
pay for at least premium economy if you can, as you'll be treated much better
31st Jul 2012, 10:20
Well, how thoroughly depressing. It is much as I feared though. I am now planning on travelling with Delta, with stops in JFK on the outward journey, and Atlanta (eek) on the return.
I have actually had pretty good experiences with Delta. And they once upgraded me to business from the cheapest economy ticket known to man, so they have a small place in my heart.
It's such a shame that it's a case of picking between a bad bunch, but then when you look out how people like my employer buy flights these days (i.e. searching for the absolute dirt cheapest fares they can find), it's no wonder things have gone the way they've gone. If people aren't willing to pay for quality then levels will drop, I guess it's pretty simple.
31st Jul 2012, 12:27
Oh dear, lets use this to slag off US airlines again. In the last 20 years between myself and Mrs J we have over 100 trips back and forth over the pond.
20 years ago I would only travel with BA or Virgin but not now. Last few trips transatlantic have been with Delta and have found them very good. Also used United in economy and as said all much the same these days.
In all those years not once has our luggage been lost or missplaced.
Would always reccomend flying direct if possible, more to save time than anything else but the thing about collecting your baggage then rechecking it in is only because you have to do customs etc. at your initial point of entry.
31st Jul 2012, 13:16
Would confirm my feelings are that Delta best of a bad bunch, last time I flew with them was this last spring. I was treated to some very old metal (not CC) and some big storms, and they performed ok but nothing special but planes were "tired". I always use LH for the crossing just because connections through Frankfurt are better for me than LHR, and also use them for visits to the "Stans" and Eastern Europe, so keeps the old loyalty card topped up. Going further East always SQ or EK.
31st Jul 2012, 16:01
I've lost count of the number of transatlantic flights I've taken. My experience is largely with Delta, KLM and Virgin. All are adequate and comfortable and have decent inflight entertainment and food. American Airlines are dreadful, I flew them once and never again.
You have to collect your checked luggage at the first US airport if connecting because you have to clear it through customs. It's not because of 9/11 paranoia.
My experience is that JFK is horrendous for immigration arrivals and connections. Atlanta is fine for returning back to the UK as your luggage will be checked through to your destination on the way back. Detroit is by far the best for arriving into the US and making connections. It is also a nice terminal when flying Delta/Skyteam.
31st Jul 2012, 17:30
Well, I must say this thread has got me thinking. I've not been to the USA lately, as the focus of my business has been more Eastern. Some of the comments here have served to inform me just how dire air travel to, from and within the USA has become, and I am in a position to compare that with the way services have developed in Russia, where I've been a lot lately.
Now, I do speak some Russian, so I know that makes a difference when travelling around the country. But I must say that the overall travel experience, while nowhere near perfect, has improved enormously over recent years. In fact, once you know where to go and what to do, you can travel the huge distances relatively comfortably and with a lot less hassle than previously. The challenges in Russia are different to those in the USA, and we frequent travellers are versed in the short cuts and wheezes, but from what I've heard and experienced, travelling to, from and in Russia is probably no more unpleasant than the US experience. How times change indeed.
31st Jul 2012, 19:14
My experience is that there is more interflight variability within individual airlines than between different airlines. That said, here is my ranking of itinerary alternatives (not airlines).
1. Fly direct (always saves several hours and worry about misconnections).
2. If connecting, make your first flight the trans-Atlantic one, and the second one a US domestic or intra-European one. This is because if you misconnect, there are many more domestic US or intra-European options to complete your journey than there are trans-Atlantic ones. Thus, your incremental delay is more likely not to exceed a couple of hours -- rather than a half or whole day as could be the case with a missed trans-Atlantic flight.
31st Jul 2012, 20:43
I didn't start this thread to be negative. As I said, I have only had good experiences of Delta (by which I mean they've also looked after me when things haven't gone to plan). I'm just interested to hear about the different carriers and experiences of connecting at various points etc. I've connected all across the US and had very few problems. The only real issues I have are when airlines aren't willing to rectify bad situations.
I'll be flying out with delta on Saturday and back on Monday. Cattle class of course (the boss is paying!). I'm no diva!
Thanks for all the advice.
1st Aug 2012, 09:16
US Air fly direct from DUB to Charlotte daily up to 3rd Sept. Departing 0930.
You clear US Immigration and Customs at DUB - therefore on arrival in the US you are treated as a domestic Pax.
Hundreds of Pax are now connecting from the UK at DUB for onward direct flights to the US. There is a big choice of airlines flying from DUB to the US including Aer Lingus, Us Air, Delta, AA, Continental.
I fly to Orlando (MCO) direct from DUB with Aer Lingus & the joy of arriving as a domestic Pax is simply brill.
1st Aug 2012, 11:00
Since the 9/11 paranoia set in, all incoming US connections have to pick up the luggage and re-check it.
This is actually incorrect. If you fly via Dublin or Shannon then upon arrival in the US you are treated as a domestic arrival and you do not need to pick up your bags as they cleared US Customs in Ireland. This is the relatively new (2 years now) process in addition to clearing immigration in Ireland. The whole process will save you potentially an hour of queueing for immigration when you arrive in the US.
Aer Lingus will allow you to book a connecting flight through Jetblue to Charlotte via JFK. The service on Aer Lingus will far exceed the US carriers serving Dublin (although I think Delta is a good second best).
Many friends who live in London all travel through Dublin to get to the US as it's so much easier. Well worth looking into in my opinion.
Skylar.. If you travel so frequently why don't you decide who has the best frequent flyer programme and fly with them all of the time. Every now and then you will be able to upgrade yourself to business using points, and if you improve your frequent flyer status you may get the odd free upgrade.
1st Aug 2012, 14:07
In my previous occupation I worked with a US company and made many transatlantic trips. My recommendation has become:
Prefer direct flights It is faster, no connection to miss (due to immigration queues) and less chance that luggage gets lost.
About the airlines: I found that BA has most consistent service standards on the route; KLM can be more fun, especially when you speak Dutch ;) . I rate Delta and AA slightly under BA and KLM (must admit I have very limited experience with AA); then United and US ranks last. Beware that the "regionals" that fly the smaller planes in the US can be "glad to be off" bad.
My recommendations for airports to connect in: Detroit and Philadelphia. Chicago is not too bad, but has very limited facilities behind security in the International terminal.
1st Aug 2012, 22:54
Well, I'll give completely different advice.
I've been flying transatlantic frequently for business and pleasure for more than 20 years. My nearest airport is Manchester.
After hideous experiences connecting at the London airports I make sure to fly the Atlantic in the first step.
I don't see any systematic airline dependence - it depends on the route. Last time I took the US flight it was a newish airbus, relatively comfy. Last time I took the AA flight it was an ancient 757 - awful. For a long time the Delta flight was a vile MD11, but they upgraded it and all was better.
Immigration used to be hideous (this was before 9-11, especially at Atlanta), but I haven't had a massive wait at any of the US airports recently, I've usually queued longer at UK immigration on the way back. As someone said above, you've always had to pick up your bags at the US port of entry and clear customs - this was the case long before 9-11. Security checks everywhere in the world remind me of "It's a knockout" - they should grease the floors and attach you to a post with an elastic band - the US is no worse than anywhere else. In all this time I've only had one awkward US border guard, he was spooked that I was visiting my US fiance.
All the US hubs are much superior to any of the UK airports I've been to.
All other things being equal, I'd choose Philadelphia as my port of entry and departure
2nd Aug 2012, 01:23
I'm a member in all the alliances, and granted, as I'm not very loyal to anyone I might not amass the points as fast as if I'd stuck with a single network. But my experience is this - there are no real benefits to be had. During my years as Bronze, Silver, Gold member at various, I've never once been upgraded. I've never been allowed into a business lounge on the shine of my membership card unless I also had a business ticket. So staying loyal is more of a mental comfort blanket, I think. It doesn't really pay off. Maybe other travellers have different experiences.
That's why I always suggest to go direct, no matter who the carrier is. Taking the long way around with connections and partners, will give you very little benefits and all headaches.
6th Aug 2012, 11:48
Fly Direct whenever possible to any point in the US. Pay more if you have to it is well worth your time.
Direct DUB to MCO is a delight to happen. MCO has the smallest immigration haul to handle 4 European inbounds in 2 hours or less.
Rest all airlines have a standard low grade offering out of Europe when flying economy. Very rarely flown a US carrier but the non stop I take (united/continental) is a 13 hour trip and is usually my preferred as it is pretty no nonsense.
6th Aug 2012, 12:13
I hate flying to the US. But nothing beats arriving in JFK as a domestic passenger. If you have the chance to do that (e.g. via DUB, as some have suggested here), then take it.
7th Aug 2012, 19:55
I flew to Pittsburgh (via Philadelphia) business class on US Airways recently. It was an extremely disappointing experience; tired old aircraft, indifferent service, a broken (and extremely uncomfortable) seat, and a laughably antiquated in-flight entertainment system. A few months ago I flew Korean air economy class; it was superior in every way.
I find European airlines tend to come somewhere in between US and Eastern, but tending closer to the terrible quality of US ones, sadly. I can't remember the last time I had a flight on a US airline that wasn't poor, and I fly them quite often. I love the USA; but they certainly suck when it comes to airline travel.
Maybe I was lucky, but enjoyed a very comfortable flight with United from MAN to EWR. Bought extra legroom seats by exit door and took me 40 mins from on chocks to getting into my hire car. The airtrain system at EWR is really excellent and delivers you direct to the car hire car parks
Skipness One Echo
7th Aug 2012, 23:10
which will be to Charlotte, NC.
Why put yourself through a connection when US fly direct from London Gatwick? Is it so hard to get to?