Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

AirTran Does A Good Job—Again! (What’s The Commercial Aviation World Coming To When There’s Nothing To Complain About?)

Much as I would like to gripe about AirTran’s poor service—and Lord knows I have been subjected to too much of it in past years—the last few trips on them have been painless, and even, dare I say it, enjoyable!. Maybe upgrading to their so-called business class had something to do with it, but it’s not just that.

Here is an example of what I mean, this trip the usual four-leg itinerary over Atlanta from Raleigh to New Orleans:

For starters, they were on time. Actually, that’s a lot more than just "starters." Being on time and operating a reliable schedule is probably the most important single thing an airline can do to keep my business.

But, wait a minute. Technically, AirTran was not on time. No, they were EARLY on three flights out of four. They even boarded up early and then left the Atlanta gates early on both connecting flights. And then arrived early. I was astonished—in a good way, mind you.

Darn it, they robbed me of a chance to complain about their lack of schedule integrity, so I scrutinized their people at the gates and on board to find fault with their attitudes or, perhaps, the parsimonious provision of information, smiles, and general helpfulness. But I could find nothing other than cheerful human faces, kind demeanors, and service-oriented actions.

For example, when a young mom was struggling with her baby and her toddler and all their stuff to board first, the AirTran gate agent laughed out loud and said, “Well, c’mon then! Looks like you could use all the help you can get.” And with that she picked up the stroller and car seat and launched herself down the jetway, chattering away to the grateful mom. I cannot recall the last time I saw a gate agent on any airline act so nicely.

The airplanes were clean, too, at least compared to the recent craft I’ve flown in belonging to several of the Big Six carriers. AirTran Boeing 717s also sport XM Radio, with free earplugs for everybody who wants them, not just for elite flyers and business class folks.

I had chosen AirTran over Delta to fly RDU to New Orleans for the funeral of the venerable mother of a close friend who had died suddenly at almost 89, so it was on short notice. Delta wanted almost $1,000 for the flights, while AirTran's top fare for the city pairs was less than $400.

I spent another $80 each way upgrading on all four flights at the first gate, and it was well worth it. I am not an elite flyer on AirTran, and they don’t care. First come; first served on the upgrades. If you have the money and are first to ask, the seat’s yours. No groveling, mewling and puling in hopes a gate agent will throw you a bone and give you an upgrade. Just pay up, and it’s yours. Wonderful simplicity.

And probably a relief on at least two flights that were packed in the back, though the other two had plenty of open seats in coach.
It was easy to check in, too, on line (leaving) and at the airport kiosks (returning), and easy to request upgrades in the process at the kiosk.

As a Delta Five Million Miler (actually 5.3, I believe), I usually choose them, but this experience has convinced me that AirTran is an affordable, bearable, even enjoyable, alternative. Especially since Delta’s fares in every market these days seem to have skyrocketed.


Blogger David Ourisman said...

I'd be interested in hearing your impression of seat comfort and service notes in Air Tran's business class vs. Delta.

3/23/2007 9:46 AM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...


I think Delta’s seats are generally more comfortable, though some of Delta’s newer first class seats are better than others. I’d put AirTran’s business seats on par with Northwest’s first class seats: somewhat cramped but far better than coach. Also, one of my AirTran business seats had a faulty recline, but I have experienced that so often on AA, DL, CO, and NW in their domestic first class seats that I didn’t think it was worth mentioning.

As far as service is concerned, I have always said, and I continue to maintain, that Delta FAs are the friendliest in the sky. There’s always a dud or two, of course. Delta FAs put Delta service ahead of AirTran right away. As far as snacks go, the AirTran FAs came around three times on two flights and twice of the other two of the New Orleans itinerary offering their assortment of snacks. The Delta standard on short flights like these is twice, and in my experience they always make it twice through first class. I prefer the Delta snack selection to AirTran’s, but that’s a personal choice.

Ditto on twice offering drinks and refills on each flight. AirTran FAs on my flights were attentive to the front cabin even when going back to coach to help serve there. Seemed very similar to Delta to me.

All in all, I put Delta seat comfort and service ahead of AirTran, but I think AirTran’s doing a remarkably good job for a low cost carrier in servicing their business class.

There is one more edge that AirTran has over Delta, and, ironically, further growth of AirTran at ATL could hurt them in this regard: AirTran operates, as you know, only on part of Councourse C, and this makes connecting, especially tight connections, a cinch. Delta’s sheer size and spread across T, A, B, C, D, and E concourses at Atlanta erodes connection integrity with even slight delays. Of course that’s not a seat or service issue.

3/23/2007 10:53 AM  
Blogger Joshua Katt said...

I had hoped that AirTran was different than DL, perhaps as good as Southwest, but they were step in step with Delta on LGA-ATL, even 2 weeks out. If you can fly WN, its truely the only airline that is passenger friendly!!!

3/25/2007 12:19 AM  

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