Pick one: Delta vs. United vs. American Airlines
July 1, 2013 7:24 AM   Subscribe

Due to a new job, my wife and my family will be making regular trips from Boston to northern Michigan. The closest airport to her new job is Traverse City (TVC). It looks like there are three major airlines that do this route, and usually with a stop either in Detroit or Chicago (Delta, United, American Airlines).

I am hoping that we can pick one of these airlines and become a bit loyal to them. This way we can get used to the gate areas, the service style, the schedules, and maybe even get some frequent flier miles. I have heard so many bad things lately about American Airlines, and this makes me realize that the MeFi community may have some quality feedback about these airlines, either pro or con.

I would love your advice on this matter, and any specifics you want to add about the Traverse City airport or area would be greatly welcome as well!
posted by yet.another.boston.question to Travel & Transportation (31 answers total)
I would rather flap my arms and attempt to fly by myself than choose American Airlines. Delta isn't much better, but it is a little better.
posted by xingcat at 7:26 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have stuck out with American Airlines- despite the recent turmoil. (I've flown AA for 15 yrs? it's been a long time). For me the key point is that their points are the easiest and cheapest to redeem of any airline that I've used. They also code share with other airlines (British airways, Japan airways and Quantas) that I tend to use so I can use AA points for upgrades on those flights, so for me it makes sense. I've had way better service on AA than any other airline (well swiss air wins, but that's different), and I've had surprisingly good luck with their customer service.

I've heard decent things about Delta recently, but not good enough for me to actually start flying with them regularly enough to accumulate points.

I avoid United.

- by cheapest, I mean I just flew to Japan round trip for 40k points + $126 in taxes. most airlines are 50k points one way for a distance that big.
posted by larthegreat at 7:30 AM on July 1, 2013

I just had a friend fly to Detroit; she had booked on American through Chicago and ran into weather trouble. She said the gate agent for American was the best, most helpful person she'd ever encountered in airline service. She was rebooked direct to Detroit on Delta, and she said he worked hard to rebook everyone so they got where they were going. We fly Delta a lot, and it's fine enough.

Detroit is a Delta hub, so there's going to be a lot of options through there, although if it isn't the your start or end point I'm not sure how helpful that is.

We avoid United.
posted by dpx.mfx at 7:32 AM on July 1, 2013

Of those choices, I'd choose Delta. But I'm not wild about any of the three, and the only reason I'd pick one would be for frequent flyer miles.

It might be worth doing some research on which has the best codesharing program so you could use your miles more flexibly.

It also might be worth looking at each airline's schedule and seeing what times in and outbound flights are. It's always better to have more options, or if there's only one flight per day out of Traverse City, at least pick the one with the more convenient schedule. Similarly, look at what time those connecting flights leave and what layovers are like. If they're in different airports, think about which airport you'd rather spend time in.
posted by Sara C. at 7:32 AM on July 1, 2013

posted by Kruger5 at 7:32 AM on July 1, 2013

The leg to Traverse City is going to be done on a regional airline partner - really, a second airline. So that's another thing to think about here. How good is their safety, their reliability, etc.
posted by thelonius at 7:33 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I fly United pretty much exclusively. Their frequent flier program has slowly been eroding over the past few years, but if you can get Gold status the benefits are still pretty nice. For the lower tier (Silver) you can still check a free bag but you can't reserve Economy Plus seating for free anymore. Otherwise, the flights are generally on time if crowded, and I've generally been pleased with their customer service.

You may also want to consider which airline groups each one belongs to. United is part of Star Alliance, which means you can get frequent flier points on any other airline in the group, including US Airways, Air Canada, and Lufthansa. That opens up your options for direct flights out of Logan.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:33 AM on July 1, 2013

I'll generally take United over either of those airlines (American has screwed me mightily the last few times I've flown them), but in this case I'd avoid having to transfer at ORD, where basically no flight ever leaves on time. So if I were you, I'd pick Delta just to be able to go through Detroit. (Also because, in a pinch, it'd be a little quicker to drive Detroit to Traverse City than Chicago. It sucks, but it will happen eventually.)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:34 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I like American for their AAdvantage program. It's even better for me because living in Atlanta, my chances of getting upgraded or even on a waiting list for an earlier flight on Delta are nil, due to the fact that EVERYONE in the city is Platinum level. The bonus in Atlanta is American has their own gates and they're the closest to the security area.

I have friends in Miami and family in Dallas, so I get direct flights to the places I go most often for pleasures.

That said, I must, occasionally, fly Delta. It's aaiight, but it's not great.

So...yeah, for a bunch of snowflake reasons, I'm with American.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:35 AM on July 1, 2013

One nice thing about Delta is that the points never expire.
posted by tripledrop at 7:37 AM on July 1, 2013

My experience is that Delta has the most expensive miles redemption, in the sense that you have to give up a larger number of miles to get a free flight.
posted by matildatakesovertheworld at 7:42 AM on July 1, 2013

I fly Delta constantly. I haven't had any really bad experiences, which I suppose is about the best you can hope for. When there has been a snafu they have fixed it accordingly. Also they have what they call Economy Comfort seats for an extra $20, which I really appreciate being 6'3". I don't know if other airlines have something similar, but I guess they do. Can't complain I guess.
posted by sanka at 7:46 AM on July 1, 2013

I use United and they are fine but relying on connections in and out of ORD would make me nervous. To my thinking, schedule flexibility should rule all here, especially if you will be making the flight frequently.

It looks to me (from using Delta and United's sites) that there are 8 daily flights each way between TVC and DTW on Delta and only 4 daily flights between TVC and ORD on United. I have not searched to see if they connect through any other cities, but assuming that's good information I would go with Delta. That way if you get in late, or have a busted airplane, you have a better shot at getting home that day.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:01 AM on July 1, 2013

I'm generally a Delta fan, and I really liked DTW when I transited through there. It's definitely one of my favorite airports.
posted by The Michael The at 8:09 AM on July 1, 2013

I have no info on American, but between United and Delta, it's hands-down Delta. Then again, I've vowed to drive, walk, or crawl to any destination before flying United again. (Used to live in Denver, which is a hub for United - they never failed to live down to my expectations.)

Delta has a pretty decent rewards program - I am currently Gold Medallion on Delta and probably manage an upgrade about 50% of the time when flying domestically.

Delta isn't stellar, but it's OK.
posted by jzb at 8:18 AM on July 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Weather in traverse city is often iffy. I'd pick Delta, and connect through Detroit because it will give you more flexibility should something go awry. The terminal there is nice as well.
posted by snickerdoodle at 8:22 AM on July 1, 2013

I would go with Delta, for the following reasons:
  • In my experience, DTW (at least the Delta part of it) is a nicer airport to be stuck in than O'Hare.
  • Delta gives you a minimum of 500 SkyMiles for every segment you fly. Given that the as-the-crow-flies distance from DTW to TVC is only about 250 miles, this is a big bonus.
  • If you're coming from Boston, flying through Detroit cuts a goodly amount of flight time off your itinerary.
  • Delta also operates flights into TVC through Minneapolis/Saint Paul (or at least they used to), which gives you more options if there's a weather cancellation. And MSP is also a pretty nice airport.
  • Seriously, dude. Have you ever *been* through O'Hare?
A couple of tips before you make your final decision, though: First, be sure to check how many flights you'll need (on average) to get a free ticket — i.e., calculate how many miles you'll get for each round trip, look up how many files you'll need to get a free ticket, and divide the latter by the former. You might still come out ahead using American or United; I'm not sure what their redemption policies are like.

Second, be sure you look up what the flight schedules are like in the off-season. TVC is a highly seasonal airport (and also one of the most overpriced in America, by the way), and I'm pretty sure there are many fewer flights there during the winter. Looking up the current schedules will not accurately reflect the year-round reality.

Good luck! I hope you enjoy the time you spend up there — it's a beautiful area.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:23 AM on July 1, 2013

I will never fly United again. Ever.
posted by musofire at 8:24 AM on July 1, 2013

Delta for sure (and I fly a lot). The other two are garbage and I've had problems on both pretty much every single time I fly them.
posted by superfille at 8:32 AM on July 1, 2013

I fly a lot and even though American has been going through some crap lately, I still like them. I don't mind connecting through O'Hare. I have had middle-tier elite status in the frequent flyer programs for both American and Delta and they are both ok, though it is "cheaper" in terms of miles used to redeem flights on American. I avoid United because every time I have flown with them I have encountered what seems to be a universal policy to treat their customers like crap.
posted by bedhead at 8:40 AM on July 1, 2013

As you can see, people have strong opinions about the relative merits of US airlines, but these opinions do not converge to any kind of consensus. What clearly does have a price is brand loyalty; if you commit to using one airline exclusively, especially to a smaller destination, you have fewer choices and are less likely to get the price and schedule you want. I would just buy whatever tickets work for your schedule.

That said : at any big northern hub you face a risk of missing a connection due to weather and traffic, and I think that's a good argument for booking flights (on whatever airline) that change in Detroit. It's one reason I often transfer through O'Hare; as people have said, that airport can be a bit of a nightmare, but if I get stuck there, I can always hop on a bus and be home in Wisconsin in three hours; that's a very useful safety net.
posted by escabeche at 8:43 AM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Delta is my airline of choice, but I honestly don't have much experience with American and United as they don't have a huge presence in my departure city. One thing to look into is the way that the Delta SkyMiles program is changing in 2014 - at a cursory glance it sounds like it's going to become significantly more difficult to gain priority status unless you fly a lot of expensive trips each year.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:43 AM on July 1, 2013

Joan_holloway's point about Delta status is true of the other airlines as well. Definitely United, less sure about American. They are all moving to a dollars spent model vs. miles.

United has been better for me than the others but I don't think it means much, unfortunately. I was flying out of O'Hare weekly and it was more than fine.
posted by emkelley at 8:49 AM on July 1, 2013

Another voice for Delta - you will be using DTW as your hub and Delta has more flights there than anyone else. I think they've gotten considerably better in the last couple years much to my surprise. Weather will be an issue with Traverse City so your options will be better with the most local big airport and that's DTW.
posted by leslies at 8:51 AM on July 1, 2013

I'm happy with Delta and hate flying United. I don't have significant experience with American.

In particular, DTW is a great hub; it's probably my favorite airport. I've had only one serious delay in ten years of flying NWA/Delta, and maybe an occasional landing 15 minutes late. But mostly my flights land early (I do a fair amount of cross country DTW-SFO).
posted by ktkt at 9:39 AM on July 1, 2013

Having been an unhappy Northwest Airlines customer for many years and become a moderately satisfied Delta customer after they merged, I can say Delta is definitely okay, particularly in Detroit. Having been a very happy Continental customer and now a miserable United customer, I can say stay the heck away from United until their merger with Continental gets sorted out. It did not go well. Here's a decent explanation of how the two mergers differed. In sum, morale at United is bad and it doesn't translate well into customer service.
posted by *s at 9:43 AM on July 1, 2013

Just came back to say, under NO circumstances will I voluntarily fly United anywhere, ever.

It's the Greyhound of the skies. Surly flight attendants, microscopic seats and an aging fleet.

Husbunny and I flew to London from Nashville via National. The return flight was HEINOUS!

Once we got to the gate at National for our flight home we were informed that the restrooms wouldn't be working on the flight. Awesome!

Boy! Did I have to pee!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:48 AM on July 1, 2013

For your situation, I would suggest Delta. It looks like most of the United and American flights connect through O'Hare - not the worst airport in the world, but a huge pain nonetheless. Every connection seems to involve an incredibly long walk, INSANELY crowded concourses, half the flights seem to end up delayed, the airport seems extra-susceptable to bad weather for some reason, etc. Most Delta flights appear to connect through Detroit, which I think is a much less chaotic airport.

Personally, I usually fly United simply because a) it's the only nonstop option available on my most frequent routes, and b) I have status + a ridiculious number of Star Alliance miles. It's not exactly "wow" but save one bad experience a few months ago (for a flight departing from O'Hare, naturally!) I've never had any issues with them.
posted by photo guy at 1:01 PM on July 1, 2013

All airlines suck, and legacy carriers suck worst of all. Given that you're going to be flying anyway, and mostly out of Boston, I think I'm going to suggest American to you.

American are in the process of shooting themselves in the head being bought by America West US Airways, at which point they will be the world's largest airline, and you'll also have access to the US Airways shuttle routes, which are really useful up and down the East coast.

So go with American for now, and count on flying with the new American later this year when (if?) the merger closes.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:04 PM on July 1, 2013

The best thing about frequent flyer programs these days is not the miles you earn but the perks you can get if you fly more than a certain amount in a year. For these three airlines, you will get some perks if you fly more than 25,000 miles a year. I have flown more miles this year than ever before and unfortunately have not been able to concentrate them on one airline and am lowest-level elite on American, Delta, and United.

As far as the experience for lowest-level elite goes, Delta is the best in my experience, followed by United. They both offer unlimited upgrades when the space is available (which it usually won't be because the first class space will be taken up by people with higher-level elite status). And their domestic first-class is better than United's. American doesn't do the unlimited upgrade thing for low-tier elites but makes you bank or buy 500-mile upgrade credits.

In general, and regardless of the elite experience, Delta has been my favorite out of the three. They are friendly, their planes and in-flight entertainment are nice, their irregular operations handling is vastly superior. I'm pretty happy to fly American as well. The thing I like about American is that they seem pretty predictable most of the time. I have negative feelings towards United. Your mileage may vary depending on the vagaries of the routes you are repeating.

I am booking a flight right now and am considering an inconvenient schedule just so I can fly Delta.
posted by grouse at 2:29 PM on July 1, 2013

Hi All - Sorry for the delay in reporting back in. Just wanted to say thanks for all of the advice! Flying Delta through Detroit was a great time saver. It is a better airport than Chicago!
posted by yet.another.boston.question at 6:29 PM on December 31, 2013

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