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August 14, 2006

Airlines Coming and Gone

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Until last Sunday I was one of a rapidly dwindling group who had never flown Southwest Airlines. Now that group has been decremented by one.

I normally fly back and forth to California on Alaska Airlines. But their website gave me the impression that the flight I wanted was likely to be overbooked, so I hopped on Southwest's page and got seats for me and my son on the San Jose-Seattle part of the trip. He had flown Southwest before, so I figured that having along someone familiar with their boarding system would be helpful, and it was.

Even though the plane was nearly full I had no problem getting the sort of window seat I wanted. This was because a lot of the early-boarding (A Row) passengers preferred to sit near the front so as to exit quickly on arrival. So there were several window seats left when we (early B Row) boarded.

The seats themselves were thinner than usual, freeing up legroom, something important to a guy who (when young) was almost a six-footer. Plus, they handed out two snack food packets and gave me an entire can of Coke instead of a micro-plastic-glassful as is usually the case elsewhere. Ah! Luxury!!

Still, I'm wedded to Alaska Airlines, having gobs of frequent-flyer miles (I'm up to 185,000). And I like the ability to seat-select when I book a flight. Moreover, Alaska has a better Seattle-San Jose schedule (for me, anyway) and the prices aren't grossly different.

At the end of my trip I updated the Excel-resident flight data base I maintain on my travels. One of the outputs I can generate from a tabulation program I wrote is a ranked list of each airline I used and how many flights I've made.

Out of 403 flights in my career, 89 were on United, 78 on Northwest, 77 on Alaska and 55 on American. Then there's a big drop to Delta, at 13 flights.

United and Northwest are tops in part because they were the two big airlines that flew out of Seattle back in regulated days, before the late 70s. I also gave Northwest a lot of business because I did a lot of work for General Motors and Northwest had plenty of non-stop flights between Seattle and its Detroit hub.

I tabulate according to the name of the airline as it was at the time I flew. If I consolidated by merger, my Delta tally would be 20 flights because I flew Western Airlines seven times. For what it's worth, my first jet flight was on Western -- a Boeing 720 I took from Seattle to San Francisco 45 years ago when I enlisted in the Army and was being sent to Fort Ord for training.

Other defunct airlines on my travel list are Eastern (8 flights), National (6), Republic (6), Braniff (5), Air Cal (3), PSA (3), TWA (3), Pacific Northern (1) and Pan American (1). I've also flown 12 times on America West which is involved in a merger with US Air -- the latter name surviving.

Airline usage is still a local/regional thing. Had I flown much when I lived in Albany, NY, my defunct airline roster might have included Allegheny and Mohawk.

Despite what I said above regarding frequent flyer miles on Alaska, having a mileage plan is not a decisive influence on my choice when booking. I normally consider schedule and price first; my last three trips to Las Vegas were on three different airlines. And if I think there's a reasonable likelihood that I'll fly an airline more than once, I'll usually join its mileage plan.

What were your airline habits over the years?



posted by Donald at August 14, 2006


I last flew anywhere a long time before the current "we hate the common people and wish to inconvenience and belittle them at every possibility opportunity" kerfluffle. These days if I can't get there without flying, I don't go.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg on August 14, 2006 3:54 PM

Southwest is my favorite airline, in fact I'll be flying Southwest to Las Vegas tomorrow. It makes things much easier because Southwest serves a small, uncrowded airport (Long Island MacArthur) which is only about five miles away from me :) Jet Blue is another nice airline, with its leather seats and DirecTV, though getting to JFK requires a considerably longer schlep.
As best I can recall Eastern Airlines is the only defunct airline I've ever flown. I made two round trips on it, between Connecticut and Florida as a child in the 1970's and between Connecticut and New Orleans via Atlanta in 1989. The latter trip actually was on the "new" Eastern Airlines, a short-lived revival attempt following an earlier bankruptcy. I've also flown on four airlines that were later absorbed into other carriers: Mohawk, People Express, TWA and America West.

Posted by: Peter on August 14, 2006 5:39 PM

London-Paris: Eurostar is very fine - Let The Train Take The Strain.

Posted by: dearieme on August 15, 2006 10:42 AM

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