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Our family loves to travel.  This year we crisscrossed the globe; from Asia to Europe to the Middle East to Houston and points in between.  We traveled solo and as a family on several different airlines, US (Delta, Hawaiian, and United) and foreign ones (Philippine, Emirates, and Qatar).

So which is our favorite?  Hands down it’s Emirates!  My 7 year old grandson, Devon, has made it clear that from now on he will only fly with Emirates!

Over the years we’ve flown with Alitalia Air France, KLM, Lufthansa, VirginRoyal Jordanian and British Airways. Most have comfortable planes and provide great service by very friendly and helpful staff both on the ground and in flight.

I guess it’s evident by now that when possible we fly with foreign airlines.  Why do we prefer foreign airlines to US ones?  The answer is easy, foreign airlines have much better service, friendlier staff, and give better value.

This month my husband and I had to fly to Italy to catch a cruise on the Island Princess which embarked from Venice and ended in Rome.  Yes, we could have flown from our home in Hawaii to Italy on many of the US airlines like United, US Airways, or Delta; but instead we went out of our way to fly Emirates from New York’s JFK airport to Milan’s Malpensa airport.  (We flew Hawaiian Airlines from Honolulu to JFK and changed flights.  We took trains to and from the Milan airport to Venice and Rome).

Why you may ask did we go thru all this when we could have taken a different route with say United or Delta?  It wasn’t the price, although the price was great (We got lucky and caught a sale. We paid $497 per ticket from JFK to Milan), but really it was for comfort.  We flew coach and still got great service and comfy seats.

I fail to understand why US airlines seem to charge for everything from checked bags to food to in flight entertainment and in some cases even blankets and pillows.  A couple of years ago I had to purchase a tiny blanket and inflatable pillow from US Airways on a red-eye flight from Honolulu to Phoenix, I was appalled!

Not to mention the flight crew on most US airlines are mostly unhelpful, sometimes rude, and many times just plain old mean and nasty.  Three years ago we were on a United flight from LA to Newark with my grandkids on the 4th. of July, one of the flight attendants was decked out in holiday gear complete with a sparkly stars and stripes headband.  My then 10 year old grandson, Dion, thought it was cool and snapped a photo of her.  In response the nasty old biddy yelled at him and said it was illegal to photograph anyone on the plane, she made him delete the photo.  She terrified him!

Granted the polite thing to do would have been to ask her if he could take her photo, but he was just a kid and meant no harm, her reaction was a over the top.  I’ve since learned that there have been other photo incidents on United, in one case the flyer was thrown off the plane.  It seems that photographing in an airplane has become an issue these days, I’ve looked into it.  There doesn’t seem to be a law prohibiting taking photos, but some airlines, including United, prohibit taking photos on their planes, it’s written in the fine print of their on board magazine or on their ticket carriage contract that few of us read.  However this prohibition is largely overlooked unless you have a flight attendant who for reasons of her own decides to enforce it, in short the prohibition’s enforcement is random and arbitrary.  I guess we were lucky that particular flight attendant didn’t throw us off the plane!

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However on Emirate Airlines taking photos on their planes is not an issue!  Emirate’s crews not only pose with you to have their photos taken, they will even take the photos for you!  In fact if your child is flying with them on their birthday they will even take a Polaroid photo of your family on their plane to mark the occasion!

I’ve been on many Emirate flights and have seen many travelers snapping away on their beautiful Airbus 380s.  I’ve snapped a few myself, many of them I have shared on my blog!

I’m not sure why United flight attendants have such an aversion to being photographed, but could it be because many of them are ancient, unattractive, and grouches?  We’ve all noticed that the flight attendants on foreign airlines are young, pretty, and photogenic!  Don’t get me wrong I have no issues with age or looks, I’ve run into some great attractive flight attendants on Delta and Hawaiian, both young and not so young.

Other than the photography issue, which isn’t really that important when choosing which airline to fly, the flight attendants on foreign airlines are just much more helpful.  I’m sure we’ve all seen fellow travelers struggle to stow hand luggage in the overhead bins while the flight attendant just watches. This will NEVER happen on a foreign carrier!  Whether I’ve flown Air France, Alitalia, Lufthansa, or any other foreign airlines the flight attendants actually rush over to help passengers stow luggage away and they do it with a smile.  Why can’t US flight attendants be as helpful?

The helpfulness doesn’t begin on the plane, it starts long before.  I’m sure we’ve all experienced the long hold times when trying to reach someone from a US airlines on the phone.  We sit there for ages listening to canned music or pushing buttons to reach an airline rep.  Not so with foreign airlines.  I was actually shocked when my calls to Emirates were answered by a live person on the second ring! (Read my post about Emirate’s great customer service on the phone).

These days most US airlines board in a specific order based on class of service and loyalty milestones.  Gone are the days when families with small children or guests needing special assistance are given the opportunity to pre-board, not the case with foreign airlines.  Those that I’ve been on still offer this courtesy and believe me it’s much appreciated when we travel with the younger grandkids or with my 80 year old mom!

Really I can’t rave enough about the friendly service one gets on foreign airlines, but most of us choose an airlines based on price and value.  Lately US airline fares have gotten quite expensive, unless of course you fly with the budget no frills airlines such as JetBlue, Frontier, Southwest or Alligiant.  I’ve never flown with any of these no frill airlines, but I’ve heard about them.  Some of them are actually pretty good as long as you’re ok with paying extra for things such as assigned seats, priority boarding, and other conveniences.

Here’s a list of what you get when you fly with a foreign carrier versus a US airlines, I’m talking about economy or coach class, not first or business.  Maybe it will help you decide which one to fly with next time!

Luggage Policies

Most US airlines charge for checked bags when flying within the US unless you have frequent flyer status or have their credit card (except Southwest who gives passengers 2 free checked bags).  Bags must not exceed 50 pounds. The first bag is usually charged $25, the second $35, and the price sky rockets for the next pieces. Prices are subject to change without notice, so before you fly check the airlines for their current policy.

When flying internationally some US airlines will let you check in one bag for free as long as it doesn’t exceed 50 pounds.

Foreign airlines allow each traveler either 2 free bags up to 50 pounds each or a total of 30+ kilos depending where you are traveling to and from.

Most airlines, whether US or foreign allow each passenger 2 carry on bags (1 personal item such as a purse or attache case plus 1 bag that will fit in the overhead compartment or under the seat.  Hand luggage can not exceed 15 pounds.  All airlines have started strictly enforcing this rule to try and ease aisle congestion during boarding.  However I’ve heard that some US airlines are considering charging for hand luggage in the near future.

Meals

US airlines, except Hawaiian, do not provide free meals or snacks when flying within the US no matter how long the flight may be.  They do provide free water, sodas, juice, coffee and tea on most flights.  Most don’t even serve you peanuts or other small snacks during their beverage service, instead they give you the opportunity to buy a snack or a light meal.  They also sell alcoholic beverages.

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Hawaiian Airlines prides itself as is the ONLY US airlines that provides free meals and snacks on all their flights (except on the very short inter-island flights).  They don’t offer you a choice of meals but at least they feed you.

On our flight to JFK they provided teriyaki meatballs, salad, and a cookie for dinner and served fruit salad and roll for breakfast.  On our flight home they served pasta for lunch and fruits and chocolates as a snack before landing.  They also provided packets of trail mix along with their free beverage service and offered red and white wine with lunch and dinner.  Other alcoholic beverages were offered for sale.

Hawaiian also offers snacks such as chips and candies for sale, however all food sales will be discontinued as of November of this year.

On international flights US carriers provide some sort of free meal service and offer snacks for sale.
They also have a beverage service but all alcoholic drinks are for purchase.
On my last United flight they announced that beginning this year they will be selling gourmet meals on their international flights, I’m not sure if this means that they will stop providing free meals so check with them before you fly.  You might need to bring your own food for that 8 hour flight to Italy or France!

All foreign airlines provide free meals and snacks regardless of how short the flight is.  I’ve been on hour long flights on British Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, and Alitalia, they’ve all given us a sandwich and a cookie along with beverages including beer and wine; all for free.  I’ve never seen them selling any food on foreign airlines.

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On all the international flights I’ve been on, including foreign airlines and Delta and Hawaiian airlines they offer you a choice of meals, usually beef or chicken or veggie.

A friend of mine flew economy on Turkish Airlines and said the chef even introduced himself before the meal was served!

Emirates hands out a menu at the beginning of the flight so you can decide on your meal choices.

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On all the Emirate flights I’ve been on they provide a meal or meals depending on how long the flight is.  (On our 16 hour flight to and from Dubai they gave us breakfast, lunch/dinner).
Beer, wine, and after dinner liquors are offered for free during the entire flight.  They also provide snacks during the flight and open up a snack bar with fruits, candies, and energy bars for passengers to serve themselves during the entire flight.  If you have special dietary needs be sure to order it from their website before you leave home, they will happily provide it!

All foreign airlines I’ve been on including Philippine Airlines, KLM, Lufthansa, Air France, and Japan Airlines all provide meals, snacks, and beverages.  Delta and Hawaiian set up a self service snack bar between meals, United does not!

On a United flight 3 years ago from Newark to Rome my then 4 year old grandson, Devon, missed the meal because he’d fallen asleep.  When he woke up we asked the flight attendant for his meal, we were told the food was all put away and there was no more for Devon to eat.  We then asked for a snack such as pretzels or peanuts, anything, the kid was crying!  We were told a snack would be served in an hour and he’d have to wait til then!  Read what happened on Emirates last summer when Devon got hungry between meals, they didn’t just give him a snack, they gave him a whole meal!

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On all our Emirate flights this summer Devon got kids’ meals and a snack box.  2 Year old Jett was given infant meals.  We had to order them before departure, but the kids loved them!

When I get off a foreign airlines flight I’m actually stuffed!  When I fly with any US airline, including Hawaiian, I bring my own food!  My best advice if you’re flying with a US airline, specially if traveling with kids BRING YOUR OWN FOOD!!

In-Flight Entertainment

Gone are the days when you could while away a long flight by watching movies on the plane, on the large screen or the small one in front of your seat.  On all the flights I’ve been on this year, including United and Hawaiian you must buy the movies.  On Hawaiian recent releases are sold for $7.99 per movie or you can purchase an entertainment package for $7.99 and watch not so new movies, TV shows, listen to music, and play games.  You can also purchase wi-fi service on some flights.  The only complimentary entertainment is the flight route tracking or airline shorts which means you can sit in your seat for 10 hours and track your flight path and count down the flight time or watch company related documentaries advertising their routes, services, and destinations.

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In-flight entertainment is free on all foreign airlines.  Most entertainment is viewed on your personal screen mounted on the seat in front of you or stowed in your handrest.  You can watch recent and older movies, TV shows, and other things in multiple languages, play games, and listen to music.  They even provide free comfy headphones. (US airlines sell you earbuds or you must use your own.)

Emirates also offers free wi-fi once the plane reaches cruising altitude.  You can browse the web, email, and make phone calls although you may have to pay your phone provider’s data and roaming charges once you’re connected.

Fleets

Most US airlines fly aging fleets.  They also cram as many seats as possible in a plane and try not to leave with any vacant seats.  Their seats are tiny, have minimum leg room, and barely recline.  All this results in a very uncomfortable flight, specially if your seat mates are large and overflow into your seat.  You end up stiff and sore unless you spring for the Economy Plus seats they all seem to be selling.

Most foreign airlines fly large new planes such as the Airbus 380 (double decker) that Air France, Emirates, and Etihad fly.  The seats are roomier more leg room (my 2 year old grandson, Jett, set up camp on the floor between our seats).  They also recline to a more comfortable position.  Some planes even have foot rests in their economy seats!  These larger planes are also quieter and more comfortable, you hardly feel any turbulence.  I’ve walked off these planes feeling refreshed after a comfortable snooze!

Lavatories on most US airlines are small and nasty.  They smell bad, end up filthy after a long flight, and more often than not run out of soap, toilet paper, and hand towels.  Yuck!  If you’re traveling with infants be prepared to wait for the one or two lavatories with a changing table.

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Foreign airline lavatories on their new larger planes are roomier, cleaner, and well stocked. They even provide lotion and cologne!  On the Emirate flights I’ve taken I have seen the flight attendants take turns donning gloves to clean and stock the lavatories during the flight! Unthinkable on all the US airlines I’ve ever flown.  On Emirates all lavatories have clean changing tables.

Other Extras

Some US airlines provide free blankets and pillows on long flights, specially the red-eyes.  Don’t look for them on short flights even if you’re freezing.  Bring your own blanket or wear a jacket!

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On foreign airlines they provide blankets and pillows on every seat for their long haul flights and many of the shorter ones.  They also provide a travel bag that includes a toothbrush, toothpaste, eye shades, and socks.  Little things that make your flight a bit more comfortable.

They also provide headphones to use during the flight.  Should you get a headache during your flight they don’t hesitate to provide you with a small packet of tylenol if you request it.

If you’re traveling with kids the kids will be lucky if they get a plastic set of wings during the flight if you’re on a US airlines.

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Foreign airlines seem to love kids.  They make sure the kids are well entertained.  Our kids have gotten stuffed toys, puzzles, coloring books and pencils, and other things from all the foreign airlines we’ve ever flown.  Flight attendants go out of their way to make sure the kids are happy, and the parents too!  When their not busy they have even carried or walked them around the plane so that mom’s can have a break!

Read about our wonderful experience this past summer on Emirates!

With all the traveling we’ve done this year the differences between the foreign and US airlines were driven home.  This is why we go out of our way to fly with foreign airlines whenever possible.  It begs the question WHY can’t US airlines do the same?

US airlines are always complaining that they’re loosing money.  It’s no wonder given the friendliness and services provided by foreign airlines.  The cost of a ticket on a foreign carrier is pretty much the same or at times less than the cost of the same ticket on a US airlines.  So why can’t US airlines at the very least offer free checked bags, free headsets, and free meals?

When we fly on any foreign airlines we feel welcomed, on the other hand on US airlines they make us feel that they are doing us the favor of allowing us to purchase tickets to fly with them.  To be fair there are exceptions.  When I do have to fly on US airlines I try my best to fly with Delta or Hawaiian, both have fairly reasonable customer service and friendly flight crews.  I honestly can’t say the same about the other US airlines, in my experience they’ve just been nasty.  But their are times that United is the most convenient, like when I visit my mom in Houston, United is the only airlines with a direct flight; it used to be the Continental flight and they were fine, that is until they merged with United.  I can only hope that the next time I must fly to Houston United has improved a little bit.