Oscars for Airlines: A Third Culture Kid’s Airline Review

It has been said that Third Culture Kids feel far more loyalty to airlines and airports than to nations and governments, so with that in mind when Jet Blue banners fly across my computer screen with $44 fares highlighted in their familiar blue I always look. The flights are cheap, you get one checked bag at no cost and their boast of “extra leg room” is entirely accurate.

I flew before I walked and can’t count the number of flights I’ve taken, or airlines and airports I have had the privilege to meet. At the risk of sounding annoying and “remembering the good old days”, when it comes to airlines, it was the good old days.

International flights often included overnights in major cities world-wide at the cost of the airline. All inclusive packages with meals and transportation vouchers to and from the airport were the norm. In-flight meals, drinks and toys were complimentary and we even got little wing pins to proudly place on shirts or jackets that said “Fly the Friendly Skies“.  Extra baggage didn’t come at an exorbitant fee and you could often talk your way out of the cost through smiles and thanks.

Consider the average flight today where a grumpy airline employee checks you in, or you check yourself in, and then wander over to make sure your luggage will get on as well.  You wait, sometimes for hours with no information, to find out your flight is delayed and once you finally leave, peanuts, pretzels and drinks are thrown at you across the aisle.

But even in the current abysmal state of the industry there are those airlines that rise to the top and get high marks for everything from flight schedules to customer service, so today I bring you the “Oscar” awards for airlines

For domestic airlines in the United States the Oscar will be shared, going to Jet Blue and Southwest. Both offer great prices, generous luggage allowances, credit cards to help you build miles and all in all a good flying experience. News this past fall that Southwest has purchased Air Tran put a smile on my face!

Bottom of the barrel – no doubt American airlines with their frequent cancellations and rude interactions, and NO – getting an email telling me that my flight scheduled for 8am will be leaving at noon is not ok. United is right down there too, with equally bad schedules, although perhaps not as quick to change flights.

If flying internationally the Oscar goes to Swiss. With their hot towels to refresh you in economy class and their attention to detail and comfort, even with a delayed plane, they rise to the top.  A stop in Zürich, particularly if you have young children, is a treat as the airport has a fully equipped play room/nursery with a special room just for babies. Memories of hours in that nursery remind me that it saved us from what could have been miserable times of waiting by gates during long lay overs – we owe this airport our sanity. A close runner-up could be British Airways as I have always had lovely flights on British Air.

Virgin Air gives a cheap but uncomfortable flight to London, and if you are patient you can usually find British Air tickets for almost the same price. I have heard that Singapore Air could probably get a world-wide Oscar for the best airline (which I tend to believe as the efficiency in Singapore is legendary) but I can’t speak from experience on the airline. Lufthansa could be up there as a competitor, though not winner, and after our recent trip to Egypt, we would swear by the Egypt Air New York/Cairo Nonstop flight.

I’ve been told that Iceland Air is the bottom of the barrel internationally so I will not be swayed by their cheap prices, realizing I will pay the cost some other way (like having to make sure of change in my pocket in order to use the bathroom). I assure you I am not being dramatic – Ryan Air out of Ireland does have a “pay when you go” policy on using the loo.

So what about you? Who gets the Oscars from your experience? Would love to have you weigh in – Favorite Airlines, Worst airlines, Worst airline stories – we want to hear it all!

46 thoughts on “Oscars for Airlines: A Third Culture Kid’s Airline Review

  1. Okay, I’m coming in really late on this, but loved the post! Loved KLM, I was doing research on a project and needed international names when I decided to ask the flight attendant for help, totally unrelated to air travel. She talked to me as much as she could during the flight, then when we landed she let me go out last so we could talk some more. Her colleague came over, saw what we were doing and provided some names as well, complete with commentary (“this one’s basically considered to be your average boy from the countryside”, “this is more popular with our grandparents’ generation”, that kind of stuff, but it was just what I needed).

    Had two flights with Ryanair and never again. They were so rude, unhelpful and even refused water, when you asked for tap water. Plus a whole bunch of other things like arriving seven hours late, etc.

    Love Finnair, Blue1 and SAS. When I was little we used to fly Icelandair a lot. From what I remember, I really liked it, but then I was fascinated with the idea of a layover in Iceland. But from what I remember the staff were really nice. My closest friend swears blindly that Swiss is the best, no matter what, courteous service, and very considerate. I don’t remember what my experience flying with them was, but I think I was satisfied (half the time I don’t even notice what airline I’m flying with, I just get myself to the gate, and then I’m either asleep or reading. I loved how you said you were flying before you learned how to walk, same thing here).

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    1. So glad you came by and so sorry it’s taken me a bit to get back to you! Love the story of KLM – yes, that would seal the deal for me as well. You echo what a couple of friends of mine have said about Icelandair – they really liked it. But I will remain a Swiss loyalist yet! That being said, I’m always so happy I’m flying that the means by which I fly are not as important. Thanks so much for the comment.

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      1. Hi back, and no worries. I totally agree with you about the idea of flying. Unless it’s a really bad experience, though I dare say we’re more relaxed about flying since we’ve done it so much. So when it’s bad, it’s really, really bad. But on the other hand, it’s always nice to find out that you’ll be flying with your favorite airline. Looking forward to reading more. And thanks for replying!

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  2. Haven’t flown Swiss, but flew Swiss Air and I’m sure the service is much the same. Loved the little chocolates and the warm towels. Sabena is near the bottom of the barrel! In fact, we made fun of the name, Such A Bad Experience, Never Again.
    Within Canada, West Jet is the way to go. Air Canada has terrible service, but unfortunately, they are the only ones who fly internationally.

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    1. Love the acronym for SABENA! In fact, I am writing a post on Acronyms for Airlines – stay tuned for it next week and please play the game!
      I too loved the chocolates on Swiss Air and remember those warm towels, so refreshing Thank you for reading and weighing in!

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  3. We’ve been flying Etihad (Abu Dhabi based) from Dubai to Chicago for the last several years and love it. The flight attendants are always so kind to my children and even carry the baby to give me a break. Their entertainment options are wonderful for the kids. I’ve had some very bad experiences on other airlines so we find it worth the extra dollars it sometimes cost to fly direct and comfortable. My only negative comment is that their food is blah. We always bring snacks to eat.

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    1. I went Etihad to Pakistan a year and a half ago. Would sort of agree on the food!! Two hours into our 14 hour flight a man had a “cardiac event” and so my sister-in-law helped out….we ended up each getting enough miles for another trip to Pakistan. And the man is ok! We were sitting in the airport in Abu Dhabi on the way back and the same man walked up to us and thanked us. Quite a story. I love that some of these airlines don’t see kids as a nuisance but as a fun fact of life. Thanks so much for coming by!

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  4. We have been flying Singapore Airlines (Singapore-Moscow-Houston) for our annual leave and they are amazing! Last year I traveled with 3 kids (2, 4 & 6) sans husband and they were very helpful! Plenty of drinks and snacks; and I have to agree the inflight entertainment is great for the kids! The flight attendants are very attentive and know the kids’ by name. I would love to see a kids club at the back of the plane, for all kids to go back and play together or colour together! That would rock my world, especially on such a long flight (26 hours)
    The kids and I flew Continental from Houston-Minneapolis-Regina, I was dreading it, but the flight attendant bought me a margarita – at 9am! Totallly won me over!

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    1. Margaritas at 9 am?! This is the best story ever! For years I have wanted airlines to put a play room at the back of the plane for kids. I am so glad to hear you say this as well. When we flew Swiss with little kids the flight attendants were the same – I loved it! Especially in a world where the west is not always as keen on children! Thanks so much for reading and joining in!

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  5. Emirates for us when we flew to Kenya last year, excellent airline. On shorter European trips we fly Ryanair!! And NO, there is NO charge to use the loo!!

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    1. Haha! Glad you clarified the Ryan Air story Flora! I’ve also heard Emirates is great. I flew Etihad to Pakistan and while Ok wasn’t great. Good you know I don’t have to bring change if I want to fly Ryan Air.

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  6. Well for International Airlines Singapore gets my vote, but I’ve never flown Swiss. Singapore also has a wonderful play area for children. When I flew Singapore with three children 3 and under, every steward and steward came and spoke to me and the children, gave gifts, asked if I needed diapers or formula and assured me they would have the bassinet up for the baby as soon as we’d leveled out. NICE!

    Domestic. It’s a toss up between United and American, but when my seat was cancelled on United and I went to the service representative and she told me she wasn’t there to serve me…I don’t know that takes the cake for me. :)!!!

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  7. Loved the comments, the endorsements and those that gave good advice of what to stay away from but I have to say the award for best comment goes to Micah Gardner for this:
    “Southwest, the Meryl Streep of Airlines, gets better and better with age.
    American Airlines, the Keanu Reeves of Airlines, pleasant to look at but a bland and unpleasant experience.”

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  8. Even though I have done tons of air travel, we always managed to fly with the worst airlines– China Airlines, Delta and Continental. I did fly Philippine Airlines (shortened to PAL, and most people said these letters mean Plane Always Late) business class once, and it was great. I have also flown other terrible airlines like Taca in Central America and Turkish Air recently– that was really bad, but everywhere I looked it they were boasting “Named Europe’s Best Airline!” By whom?
    On our way to England this summer, we flew Air New Zealand, and it was GREAT! In economy class, we had an unusual amount of space, it was very comfortable, and the entertainment options were really wonderful. Even the food was good. Unfortunately, we rarely get to choose which airline we will fly– my husband’s company picks. And when we’re traveling for leisure, we will inevitably choose the cheapest fair.

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      1. haha! I was so busy nodding my head at the idea that I didn’t notice the spelling! Either way it works for the idea! My husband learned the joy of business class these last 4 years as he’s traveled for work; now he’s back in the real and economy world….! I think the hardest time for me to see him go business class came as I checked into economy on British Air and he headed off to the Business lounge. Hell hath no fury……

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  9. My favorite airport is also Schiphol Airport and I have always had a good flight with KLM. But to Deltas defense, I recently flew round trip to Prague non-stop from Kennedy for a great price and one of the best flights and landings I have experienced. I have absolutely no complaints. Continental had treated me wonderfully in the past, even given me special family and bereavement rates along with open ended return to take care of a friend during her final days (this was quite a few years ago). Truly prefer the international carriers for their customer service.

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  10. I’ve got to add Finnair to the list of good ones – especially when you see the effort they put into having the crew do a Bollywood style flashmob on the first flight to India, it’s on YouTube :) Loved KLM and Air New Zealand but can’t speak much to current domestic flights.

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  11. A couple of years ago I flew United, then Lufthansa then Thai within a couple of weeks and I have to say United and Lufthansa didn’t come anywhere near Thai…their service, hospitality, attitude as well as inflight food and entertainment options can’t compare with the other two. I couldn’t believe how old the flight attendants on United were!! Apparently seniority (literally) gets preference in the long haul flights to and from Australia! I felt like I was on a retirees flight!! I have always had great flights with Thai and Singapore Airlines…..I am looking forward to trying Swiss at the end of the year :)

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    1. I had to laugh when you described how old the flight attendants on United were. I’ve seen so many older women in this role in America…..it seems bizarre. Let me know how you like Swiss!

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  12. I remember the travel before some of you were born and others of you were small. However, I’ll put my preference in: Pan Am, KLM (we were upped to Business), Lufthansa (first time in the giant 747), Thai, Emirates (we were upped to First Class), Qantas (will never forget the lamb we had for breakfast), British Airways. Today we look for the cheapest domestic and put up with whatever. Thankful that we knew air travel at its very best.

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  13. I can agree with Singapore Airlines at the top of the list. We have had very good experiences, lots of water, orange juice and snacks during the night. On a recent flight I felt nauseated, I was brought a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon, it really helped. I was traveling on my birthday and was even presented with a chocolate cake :-).
    In my youth we regularly flew with KLM, good experiences there too.
    At the bottom of the list I would place China airlines. When I asked for coffee, I was presented with coffee with sugar and milk. It was the only kind of coffee they had. We Dutch people like to choose how we drink our coffee!

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  14. Kuban air in Russia is by far the worst experience we have ever had.
    Austrian Air was the rudest.
    Southwest in the US is the best.
    Lufthansa changed their international baggage allowance on line to one bag and limited weight but at check in never charged…so I am still not sure on that one.
    Do not like British Airways.
    I have heard amazing things about Singapore Air. We are planning on traveling to Houston so we can fly with them to Moscow!
    We avoid Delta and American equally. (I sure hope my the pilots I know don’t read this!)

    The best US airport goes to Greenville, SC airport! Cute little park with ponds and statues right next to the runway at the terminal. Not many will get to see that though!

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    1. Ha – Did you see Micah’s comment about Southwest being the Meryl Streep of airlines – better with age :) And it makes me want to go to the Greenville, SC airport.

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  15. Readers – I wanted you to see the comments that are going on at Facebook! Very fun.

    Stacy Schreier Bender No airline at all. They all are making me angry lately. Perhaps my lack of choices? I would rather drive the thousands of miles…if only I had the time.
    2 hours ago · Like · 1

    Trudimarie Wiley MacArthur Singapore Air is easily our familiy’s favorite.
    2 hours ago · Like · 1

    Beth Kirkham Turkish Air
    2 hours ago via mobile · Like · 1

    Tina Wiley When I was young and went to Pakistan, it was KLM. Now that most of my traveling is in the states, I woud say that most American Airlines are the same…not good at all.
    2 hours ago · Unlike · 2

    Elisabeth Grunert Amtrack :-)
    2 hours ago · Unlike · 1

    Evelyn Calderwood Southwest.
    about an hour ago · Like

    Trudimarie Wiley MacArthur For fun times, best would have to be Suriname Air. Our first flight with them, there were passengers with boom boxes in the aisles and a party atmosphere throughout. They also win the award for most enthusiastic applause upon landing, but there are probably other reasons for that.
    about an hour ago · Like · 2

    Jonathan Addleton Marilyn — Why not a feature on names that we used to give airlines, e.g. the old Afghan airlines “Ariana” was more usually known as “Scariana”; BOAC was sometimes known as “Better on a Camel,” etc.?
    about an hour ago · Unlike · 3
    Marilyn Gardner PIA was Perhaps I’ll Arrive! I’ll do it! Thank you!
    about an hour ago · Like · 1

    Tina Wiley PIA…I remember eating a salad on that flight. Needless to say the results of that was pretty grissly….
    about an hour ago · Like

    Trudimarie Wiley MacArthur Inspired by Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” song, our theme for Merpati was “It’s Merpati and we’ll fly if we want to, arrive if we want to; you would cry too if they happen to you…”
    about an hour ago · Like · 1
    Marilyn Gardner LOVE all these stories…. why aren’t you all commenting on the blog?? Others need to see these! Will have to paraphrase and add them.
    about an hour ago · Like

    Parry Ally This is priceless! I think i clicked like on all comments. Its Turk Hava Yollari for me
    54 minutes ago via mobile · Like

    Debbie Murrill South African Airways – seriously; And don’t talk to me about British Airways
    22 minutes ago · Like

    Amy Brown singapore air for sure!
    7 minutes ago · Like

    Bethany Joy Mall Sethi We just flew Swiss a few months ago from India to the States with young child, through Zürich, although without much airport time because we extended the stopover for several days to visit and wander. Our flight experience had us all in awe. I second that Oscar!
    4 minutes ago · Like

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  16. Singapore Air is AMAZING! When my flight got delayed (by not very long, I might add), they hooked us up with a full buffet lunch at the gate. Their entertainment systems are awesome, food amazing, and the flight attendants are super nice (and ridiculously skinny). It’s like Christmas when I get to fly SingAir!

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  17. I’m with Ruth on this one – once you’ve flown on an Asian or Gulf airline (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar, even Gulf Air), you never want to fly with an American or European carrier, again. I have a choice between a direct United flight and an indirect Qatar Airways flight to the States, and I can’t wait to ditch United, as soon as our kids are old enough to carry their own bags. MUCH better service, quite good food & awesome entertainment (hundreds of movies rather than eight channels of entertainment to choose from).

    As a TCK, it’s the improvements in entertainment and food that prevent me from longing for the ‘good old days’ (80’s in my case), where movies were limited to one (often R-rated) movie on the big screen during an eight hour flight. Outside of the US, flying is still quite tolerable!

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    1. A couple years ago my family had an emergency so I unexpectantly flew back to the States with my 2 small kids sans husband. For the same price I could choose either United (with which I would receive airmiles) or Cathay Pacific (no airmiles). In a moment of confusion, I was leaning towards United. Thankfully my husband staged a intervention and said, “Really? Do you REALLY want to fly United alone with the kids?” So we flew Cathay Pacific, had a great layover in the wonderful Hong Kong Airport and my kids were glued to the extensive on-demand kids programming. It was one of the easiest flights ever.

      Besides, I have to vent…airmiles are not what they are cracked up to be anymore unless you fly frequently on full fare tickets. If you buy a fare even remotely discounted, you often will only get a small percentage of the miles or none at all.

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      1. This is a great story – my favorite part being the intervention that your husband staged! Thank God right?! I agree with the miles thing. The other thing that gets me is prices – I have ended up on horrible flights and when I go back I realize that I could have had a much better route for only $10.00 more but the difference between $298 and $308 in the heat of the purchase throws me.

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  18. Just jumping in to defend Iceland Air!! You can go and sit in the blue lagoon on layovers, and their pilots know how to fly in unbelievable cross winds. As for party atmosphere on a plane, nothing will ever beat being on Royal Jordanian, flying into Aqaba with a whole school of ~ 8th graders and when we were landing, the one whole side of the airplane of kids jumped up out of their seats and went to the other side to look out the windows! I don’t know if the lurch of the aircraft or the shrieking flight attendant was more terrifying.

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  19. Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands is great – they also have a large play area for children and plenty of good amenities, and KLM isn’t bad. I would add Delta to the bottom of the list. Ugh!!

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    1. Detest Delta! In fact – Detest is not strong enough….abhor? Thank you for reminding me to put that on par with American Airlines. Do you think the airlines will read this and change their tune?? #here’stodreaming

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  20. As another third culture kid who remembers the glories and excitement of flying in the past, I have to say that I now choose airlines and routes based on the best airports for layovers on long haul flights and never ever fly an American airline. Singapore’s Changi airport is tops in my book!

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  21. Southwest, the Meryl Streep of Airlines, gets better and better with age.
    American Airlines, the Keanu Reeves of Airlines, pleasant to look at but a bland and unpleasant experience.

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  22. We love most asian airlines (with the exception of Chinese airlines, sad to say)–great service, decent food and awesome inflight entertainment (which makes travelling with children bearable). Singapore Airlines is definitely the best, but we have had wonderful experiences on Cathay Pacific (from Hong Kong), Thai Air, Malaysian Air, All Nippon Air, Korean Air and Emirates. We will try Asiana Airlines (from Korea) for our way home to the US this summer. We are forced to overnight but managed to get an early flight to Seoul where we can have an entire day to sightsee. Love it!

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