Every entrepreneur gets to the point where flying is absolutely necessary. There’s a conference to attend or an out-of-state client to meet, and suddenly Hipmunk and Kayak are getting workouts as you book some business travel. But before booking a flight, it’s important to know which airlines – yes, airlines – will provide a comfortable, energizing experience that includes a little something to refuel you – and which ones will, at best, drain you of energy and at worst cause you to miss important meetings. Some will be perfect for catching up on work; others are better served as a few hours of downtime to read, nap, or watch in-flight TV.
Luckily, SMB Soup is a regular business traveler. Packing is down to a science; four days’ worth of clothes, including workout wear, fits into a single carry-on rollerboard, and a laptop briefcase complements the ensemble. Several airlines have been flown to compile this list. Planes and crew are all considered in the ratings, as are amenities. And while some airlines aren’t mentioned (Delta is a good example; it’s decent service), the three that are stand out, for whatever reason. Airlines have been personally tested and reviewed, and no compensation has been received for this review list.
Looking for comfortable seats, friendly flight attendants and captains, and free snacks? JetBlue is the airline for you. Prices are incredibly reasonable, even out of Springfield’s home airport, Bradley International Airport. Each seat is equipped with 36 television channels plus SiriusXM radio, and the snacks far surpass the standard peanuts. JetBlue offers PopCorners, cookies, pretzels, and chips for free, and for a mere $7, a choice of tasty, heftier snack boxes. Not every plane is equipped with WiFi, but that just means business travellers can relax on the way down and show up to their meetings rested and ready to go. And if you’re not a packing ninja, JetBlue allows you to check one bag for free.
JetBlue is also excellent with customer service. During a delay, the pilot himself let passengers know flight status every 20 minutes. JetBlue automatically credited every account with $50 toward a ticket on a future flight. On another flight, which was impeded by weather, the pilot worked tirelessly with the ground crew to ensure passengers would land at the intended airport.
Honorable Mention: Southwest
You’re not going to find their fares on Kayak or Hipmunk, but on Southwest, you will find budget-friendly prices and service with a wry smile. If you’re packing-challenged, your first and second checked bags will fly free – so if your plans include hitting the links to network, bring along your golf clubs. Food is standard peanut-and-pretzel fare, so nab something more substantial before boarding if you’re hungry. TV is free, and Southwest does have WiFi available for purchase – for only $8.
The only part of flying Southwest that might be stressful is not having an assigned seat prior to boarding. For a few extra bucks, you can check in early and ensure you’ll get an aisle or window seat.
Overall, though, the Southwest experience is very pleasant. I flew Southwest for the first time in May for a conference, and the flight was on time. I was able to doze off in my window seat and be reasonably refreshed for a full day of sessions.
Don’t Do It: American Airlines/US Airways
There really isn’t a place to begin with how horrendous US Airways and American Airlines are. US Airways is now part of American Airlines, which is important to note. WiFi is expensive, upwards of $20 per flight. Seats are cramped. Checked bags don’t fly free. There is no entertainment; standard snacks are pretzels; boxed meals are lackluster. Communication during delays is poor, and flight attendants are, for the most part, rude.
For example, on a nonstop flight from LAX to BDL, a red eye, flight attendants chattered nonstop – and loudly – in the galley. Passengers unfortunate enough to be seated near the galley were unable to sleep. For an entrepreneur who needs to hit the ground running in the morning (or even drive home from the airport), the lack of sleep is more than an inconvenience.
In another example, on a flight from IAH to PHL, flight attendants turned a blind eye to passengers using overhead bins for personal items like laptops, purses, and sweaters. This resulted in full overhead bins for passengers stuck in the last boarding zone. When a passenger successfully wedged her duffel bag under the seat in front of her and placed her personal item in the overhead bin, the flight attendants threatened to throw her off the plane because it was a “safety hazard” and insisted that she stow her duffel bag in the rear of the plane, which would mean fighting her way to access her bag from her window seat.
Ultimately, that didn’t matter, because US Airways didn’t perform a pre-check on the IAH to PHL flight and forced the passengers to sit on the tarmac for 45 minutes without air conditioning while the crew discovered that the second engine wouldn’t start. Passengers were herded off the plane, not provided meal vouchers, and not updated on the status of the flight. Finally, five hours later, the plane had been fixed, but the damage was done; if you’re an entrepreneur who needed to make a connecting flight for an important meeting, you were out of luck.
Updated August 5, 2015:
It’s important to note that, after three attempts to get a refund due to the passenger not landing on the original day she purchased (June 11), and instead being forced to fly in on June 12, American Airlines denied the passenger any request for compensation on the first two attempts. Allegedly, placing her in an off-airport hotel for three hours of sleep was sufficient to make up for their negligence. On the third attempt, American Airlines credited the passenger with miles.
However, they also called to harass her twice, to refuse any real compensation. Despite the fact that the airline did not perform a pre-check and was rude every step of the way, American Airlines’ policy is to stick it to their customers. For entrepreneurs, this is a fantastic lesson in what not to do. Ultimately, American Airlines should refund passengers if they are forced to miss important life events due to the airline’s negligence and own its mistakes, not try to bury them with a “policy” that is insensitive to customers.