It was the best of flights it was the worst of flights…
Let me just put out there that I know I am not as much of a flight connoisseur as some. I don’t travel regularly for work, I haven’t even ever earned enough frequent flyer miles to use on anything.
However, I do have good observational skills and strong opinions. I have done my share of flying internationally and a bit of flying domestically. And with my recent flight to Buenos Aires fresh on my mind, I would like to offer you a tale of two airlines: A comparison of flying British Airways versus flying United.
The comparisons will be mostly anecdotally based, so please rest assured no science or study besides personal experience is behind this review.
To give you an idea of my experiences, I have flown British Airways at least four times back and forth from Madrid (stopping in London) and at least twice back and forth directly from Denver to London.
I’ve flown United many-a-time domestically including to Tulsa, OK, Maui, HI, and Boston, MA. I’ve also flown internationally on United to Australia and back as well as most recently to Argentina. So here we go.
LOGISTICS: Flight Times, Delays, Luggage, etc.
British Airways: In all my times flying BA, I don’t think one flight has been delayed enough to disrupt my travel plans. There was a time when the partner airline I was flying from Madrid (Iberia) delayed the flight from Madrid to London for no apparent good reason (I think they saw the schedule as more of a guide than a strict way of operating) and I almost missed my connecting flight in London to Denver. But, I sprinted through the airport made my flight. My luggage did not make the flight, but somehow BA found a way to get it delivered to my doorstep late that night.
United: Many of the flights I’ve taken on United have been mostly or almost on time. But I’ve also experienced some major delays. Once, when flying home for Christmas from Boston, my flight was delayed 5 hours and was very nearly cancelled (note: if you can avoid flying United in the winter, do. It was not because of bad weather in Boston nor Denver that the flight was delayed, it was in Chicago, United’s hub.) Another time, when flying to Australia, they noticed there was a problem with the plane after everyone had boarded and the doors had been shut. For security reasons, they would not re-open the doors. So our time locked on the plane was increased by about two hours…but you know what’s that when added to a 16-hour flight?
Then, most recently, our flight back from Buenos Aires was moved from 8pm on a Wednesday night to 6am the following morning. A mere ten-hour delay. In United’s defense, they did give us a hotel voucher, a taxi voucher to and from the hotel, and a food voucher for eating at the hotel. But, obviously I would have rather gotten home ten hours earlier. United apologized for this while on the flight and gave us a website we could go to where they would give us something to make up for their mistake. I entered my information on that website and am waiting for someone to contact me….still.
Then there was a time when they canceled a flight I’d booked and forgot to tell me that they put me on another flight that left two hours earlier. I didn’t know that until I went to check in online that same day. Not only was I not going to be able to make the flight, but it was not a non-stop flight as I had booked. I called to get rebooked, and while they found some “direct” flights for me, they didn’t find any non-stop ones. Eventually, I demanded a refund for half of my fare and booked a flight on JetBlue with that money.
I will say this: United has never lost my luggage.
FLIGHTS: On-Flight Entertainment, Food, Service, etc.
British Airways: It’s no secret. I like to fly British Airways. I like the seats; they are comfortable and have amazing adjustable headrests. I like the package of goodies they give you: toothpaste, toothbrush, socks, headphones, pillow, blanket. I like the in-flight entertainment: Tons of movies and TV shows all on your own private screen, all on-demand so you can start and stop whatever movies you want whenever you want. I like the food: no need to request a vegetarian option, they always have one. The food is actually amazingly edible and they serve wine with the meal for free. I really like to cuddle in with my movie list, eat my dinner with wine, drink some English Tea after the meal and then drift off to as much sleeping as I can. I also find the flight attendants to be very courteous and polite. They seem downright chipper.
United: So, one time when I flew to Australia, it was a really long flight and the plane was really old and the only in-flight entertainment was a couple of movies that played on a screen I couldn’t really see five rows ahead of me. That was kind of a long time ago, so let’s forget about that. But that’s where my expectations were when I boarded the flight to Argentina. To my amazement, on the Argentina flight there were individual screens for all the seats. There were about five movies to choose from, and they played on a continuous loop. So if you didn’t start watching right at the beginning, or if you fell asleep or went to the bathroom, then you missed out. But you could watch again when it looped all the way back around to the part you missed! The food was OK, although be sure to order a vegetarian meal, because if you don’t luck out and get some leftover ones then the flight attendant will quite rudely tell you that you need to order those in advance because this is ‘Merica and we love meat! Just kidding, she didn’t say that but she was rather rude and unaccommodating. The seats were pretty comfortable, though.
British Airways: One time on a flight from London to Denver, a guy sitting by me couldn’t get his on-demand TV to work. The flight attendant was hesitant to move him to another seat because he was sitting with his fiancé, to whom he had become recently engaged. So she asked me if I would move, and I said I would because seriously, I love on-demand entertainment and would feel horrible denying someone that through the flight. She ended up moving me to first class, where I got to lay down on a flat bed, enjoy a down blanket and noise-reducing headphones and was served ice cream as a middle-of-the-night snack.
United: One time, a flight on United had almost finished boarding and they were doing the final call. No one was still in line out in the terminal to get on the plane and there was just one guy running to catch the flight. In his hurry, he accidentally went to the right instead of the left. Meaning, he walked over the first class red carpet instead of on the economy rug that I think the employees spit on when no one is looking. Rather than look the other way and let this guy board, they refused to take his ticket until he had gone back out and come in through the economy side.
So there you have it. As you can see, it’s kind of a toss-up for me as to which airline I would rather fly. Feel free to chime in with your own airline stories and misadventures.