Best U.S. Airlines: 2013 Edition Unveiled By Airfarewatchdog

Eight weeks remain in 2013-including the busy holiday travel season-but apparently Airfarewatchdog has seen enough. Last week it announced its picks for the best, and worst, U.S. airlines of the year. The top three were Frontier, Virgin America and JetBlue with United ranking last.

For criteria, Airfarewatchdog looked at canceled flights, on-time arrivals, mishandled bags, denied boardings and customer satisfaction. Interestingly, top overall airline Frontier didn’t rank at the top of any individual category.The entire overall results:

  1. Frontier
  2. Virgin America
  3. JetBlue
  4. Alaska
  5. Southwest
  6. Delta
  7. AirTran
  8. US Airways
  9. American
  10. United

Richard Branson Makes Airplane Hookups Easier By Letting Travelers Send Each Other Drinks

If you travel when you’re single, the following scenario may sound familiar: You get a friend to drop you off at the airport early, you make it through security and grab a coffee or a pre-trip beer, you wander to your gate and board, scoping out the people around you. You sit down in your seat – damn, how did you get stuck sitting in the middle row again? – and you secretly cross your fingers hoping for someone attractive to sit next to you instead of that overweight man/woman with overgrown nose hairs making their way down the aisle.

Attractive person saunters by. If only you had been in row 30A instead of 28C.

But thanks to Richard Branson, there’s help.

Virgin America is now offering Seat-to-Seat Delivery, making it easy to flirt with that hottie (scare them?) a few rows back by sending them drinks, snacks and even meals. Nothing better than hitting on fellow travelers. Who better to explain how it works than Branson – king of international affairs – himself?

The best part about it? Given the fact that airplane food has become so expensive, your potential mile high club partner probably won’t turn the free drink/food down.

No jokes about salty nuts please.

Cockpit Chronicles: The iPad Flight Bag Is Finally Here (Video)

The long awaited, previously announced iPad Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) has finally been approved for most of our airplanes at the company. In fact, we’re the first U.S. airline to receive FAA approval for the use of the iPad as a replacement for all of our paper Jeppesen approach plates.

The process started in 2007 when we were allowed to use laptops to hold our company manuals. This meant we could leave three to four manuals at home that weighed about ten pounds. When the iPad came on the scene, we were allowed to use it as an alternative to the laptop. That left only our “Jepps,” two to three large manuals that weighed even more than the company books, for us to lug around.

Some airlines went a different route, investing in a built-in laptop solution called a Class II EFB that included Jepp support. This 2009 cockpit video by Gadling shows how Virgin America deployed that solution.

Later, our company worked with Jeppesen and the FAA to offer an iPad that would be provided to every pilot and a RAM mount that stays in the aircraft. In addition, the company also provided us with a Hypermac backup battery that’s capable of extending the life of the iPad for an additional 24 hours.

Since both pilots will be carrying an iPad, coupled with the extended batteries, the FAA feels this is as redundant as the regular manuals.

A few weeks ago we saw our first mounts in our MD-80, so I felt a video tour might explain how the setup works and just what it replaces.

So far American has approval for the 777, 737, MD-80 and is just awaiting approval for the 757/767 fleet. Hopefully, this will be just in time for my return to that airplane, as once you use this setup, you won’t want to go back to the paper.

To get that approval, American had to have the iPad tested in a hypobaric chamber to simulate how the device would handle during a rapid decompression. They also had to arrange for mount testing with the FAA, which is ironic since our manuals weigh far more than the iPad and aren’t secured in place. Many takeoffs have resulted in a book or two sliding off the side table and onto the floor.

Next up on the list are the reams of dot matrix printed paperwork we take with us on the flights that I covered in a previous video. Once that is accomplished, and weather is incorporated into the iPad, we can finally claim to be flying in the seemingly mythical “paperless cockpit” that has long been the goal since sometime just after the Wright Brothers took to the air and discovered how difficult it was to fold up their maps in the open cockpit.

[Photo/Video credit: Kent Wien]

Related: “Cockpit Chronicles: Paper Makes an Airplane Fly”

Cockpit Chronicles” takes you along on some of Kent’s trips as a captain co-pilot on the MD-80 757 and 767 based in New York. Have any questions for Kent? Check out the “Cockpit Chronicles” Facebook page or follow Kent on Twitter @veryjr.

Virgin America And Singapore Airlines Launch Mileage Partnership – Star Alliance Next?

Passengers on the scrappy airline startup Virgin America were introduced to a new benefit last week: an expanded partnership with Singapore Airlines. Now, in addition to the assorted codeshare agreements currently in place, fliers on each airline can accrue miles from the partner carrier. So the 2000 Elevate points earned on Virgin America from Chicago to Los Angeles can now turn into 11,000 miles earned from Chicago to Los Angeles to Singapore. Conversely, passengers in Singapore’s KrisFlyer program can also earn miles on Virgin America’s domestic routes.

Shared mileage accrual also means that passengers in each frequent flier program will be able to redeem miles on partner carriers, so all of those domestic trips on Virgin America can now translate to international trips on Singapore.

Virgin America’s partnership with Singapore is a great step towards bringing in business from partner carriers, and one wonders whether this is the first step towards working larger networks. One of the biggest detractors to flying on the carrier has always been the lack of mileage partners in the United States, and if the airline were part of the Star, Oneworld or even Skyteam network, a huge market of business travelers would shift their business over. Since Singapore is part of the Star Alliance network, it may be a natural next step for Virgin America to partner with United Airlines, the biggest domestic Star carrier.

Were that the case, however, it might make sense for all of the Virgin carriers (i.e., Virgin Atlantic, V Australia, etc.) to join a global network, and since Virgin Atlantic just partnered up with Delta Air Lines (Skyteam), it seems that the brands are in conflict. Perhaps the cost of joining an alliance is just too high.

[Photo Credit: Virgin America]

Survey Suggests American Airlines Has Rudest Employees Among Domestic Carriers

flight attendantAccording to a recent Airfarewatchdog study, a preponderance of surveyed travelers think that of domestic air carriers, American Airlines has the “rudest employees.” United was a close runner-up, followed by Delta.

Ranking last (which in this case, means winner) is a four-way tie, between Alaska, JetBlue, Frontier and Virgin America. Hmm. Seems budget airlines know how to bring it.

Here’s the full list polled in alphabetical order:

AirTran 4%
Alaska 2%
Allegiant 3%
American 25%
Delta 18%
Frontier 2%
JetBlue 2%
Spirit 10%
Southwest 6%
United 21%
US Airways 12%
Virgin America 2%

Our friends at Airfarewatchdog run these unofficial consumer surveys every now and then and this is a great snapshot of the general consumer psyche. Bear in mind though, this data is unsubstantiated and unverified, so take it with a grain of salt. In our experience, most of the airline employees regardless of the airline are pretty darn chipper.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Fabird Blue]