Flying in America is truly awful.
For many, that’s the prevailing view of the airline industry in the US.
While there’s certainly merit to that argument, I don’t completely agree with it. Now hear me out before you try to burn me at stake.
I admit, the commercial air travel experience is far from perfect. The lines are long, the terminals are crowded, the overselling of flights is loathsome, and the customer service in many instances leaves much to be desired. (I’ll get into the nitty gritty of my gripes in a future story.)
With that said, there are many areas of the flying experience that have improved dramatically in recent years. The US airline industry and its partners have invested tens of billions of dollars over the past few years in equipment upgrades while working to improve aviation infrastructure, something over which airlines do not have direct control.
Here’s a quick overview of a few areas where the US airline industry has make significant headway in recent years.
In-flight entertainment and connectivity
Growing up, in-flight entertainment meant a newspaper, magazine or, at best, a movie showed using a grainy projector at the front of the cabin.
However, technology has moved forward and the airline industry has gone along for the ride.
With the advent of seatback screens in the 90s, in-flight entertainment took on new meaning. In 1999, JetBlue made satellite TV free across their entire fleet. While they weren’t the first with the service, making it free helped democratize the experience.
These days, seatback entertainment screens are now commonplace with free movies and television available at the touch of a button, especially on long-haul international flights.
In addition to seatback screens, high-speed internet service is becoming increasingly common. Previous generation ground-based internet technology proved to be slow, inconsistent, and expensive. But new satellite-based technology is delivering levels of connectivity unseen in years past.
In fact, the implementation of high-speed wifi means the seatback screens’ days are numbered.
American, Delta, United, Southwest, JetBlue, and Alaska Air offer free in-flight streaming TV and movies on passengers’ personal electronic devices.
If you fly in economy like I do, then this one won’t really apply to you. However, if you fly at the front of the plane in the premium cabin, then listen up. There’s some good stuff up there for you.
While airlines have been retrofitting its economy cabins with lightweight, space-saving, yet painfully uncomfortable slim-line seating, their premium accommodations have become increasingly posh.
With American Flagship First, Delta One, and United Polaris, the nation’s three legacy carriers now possess top-shelf premium cabins.
Domestically, JetBlue’s Mint premium cabin has also met with rave reviews.
That means passengers are treated to 180-degree lie-flat seats, bedding sourced from luxury suppliers, menus designed by celebrity chefs, and wines selected by master sommeliers to name a few.
So if you or your employer is willing to drop a few grand on a flight, you are in luck.
Generally, America’s airlines have had the reputation for flying around in antiquated equipment.
Even though the stereotype may have been rooted in reality a few years ago, that’s less true today. All of the nation’s major airlines have been engaged in aggressive fleet renewal programs.
American, Delta, United, and Southwest all have more than 200 new planes on order with Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier.
According to Airfleets.net, the average age of American’s fleet is only 10.3 years, JetBlue is 9.3 years, Alaska is at 8.7 years, while Southwest is at 11.5 years. That’s not back considering the average service life of a modern commercial airliner is between 20 to 25 years.
United’s fleet averages out to 14.1 years of age while Delta’s is at 17 years of age. Even though both are on the high side, these figures have fallen in recent years.
Newer planes translates to fewer mechanical failures, a quieter ride, and a more eco-friendly footprint.