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Choosing The Right Airline

If you’re flying domestically, choosing an airline is easy.  Your choice will probably depend on airfare, number of connections and departure time.  But, if you’re flying internationally, choosing an airline can be a whole new ball game.  US residents are familiar with most airlines being the same.  Not true overseas.  You should do your research before booking on overseas carriers.  Here are a few tips:

Safety record

That’s a pretty important one.   Usually you don’t give airline safety much of a second thought. You would be surprised at how many countries don’t give full attention to airline safety.  The FAA updates a list of those countries and their compliance level to generally accepted airline safety rules each month. And don’t think that these are just third world countries that have issues. Belize, Uruguay, Paraguay and others were on the list as being “insufficient” in December 2010.  You can find the list by clicking here.  

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) also requires it’s member airlines to submit to continual safety audits.  You can see of those who have passed this audit on their website.  The EU also publishes a “blacklist” of airlines that are prohibited from flying to EU countries due to their being “unsafe to operate in EU airspace”.  That list is updated frequently and can be found by clicking here.    Airsafe.com also tabulates in-depth information on airline safety, including crash and safety statistic by airline.

A couple of years ago we were flying from Singapore to Sulawesi, Indonesia (on a major Asian carrier).  As we were on final approach for landing (in a rainstorm, no less), we passed a mountain with a large (think 3-4 story) cross on the side of the hill right outside the airport.  That was the site of an air crash in 2007 where a small airline’s 737 crashed into the hillside during a storm.  A few seconds later, we did a “touch and go” on the runway as the pilot thought it was “unsafe to land” during the storm.  That pretty much brought safety to the forefront of our minds.

Seating

Before booking on an unfamiliar airline, you should check out the seating plan for that airline.  Many discount carriers abroad, try to cram many more seats into their cabins that traditional US or EU mainline airlines.  For example, EU discount carrier EasyJet’sseat pitch is 29″.  Most airlines average 32″-33″ of pitch.  Seat pitch is the distance between seats. While 3″ doesn’t sound like much, if you’re much taller than 5″10″, you’ll notice a pretty good difference in leg room.  Also, some discount carriers use narrower seats, so they can fit more seats across.  If you think you lack elbow room on a mainline carrier, wait till you get to some of the discount carriers.

A good resource on seating is SeatGuru.  They have seating plans and information for almost every airline worldwide.  They also identify what are the “best” seats to sit in in the cabin as well as the “worst.”

Airline Alliances

When booking on any airline, you should check to see if they are part of an “alliance” or partner of an existing airline that you may use frequently for domestic travel.  If so, you can probably earn miles in your regular airlines frequent flyer program, plus get some of the same benefits you get on your regular airline.  There are several different alliances, but the largest worldwide are the Star AllianceSkyTeam and OneWorld.  If you can earn miles by flying another airline or get additional perks, it may be worth paying a slightly higher fare. 

Non-Stop or Many Stops

You should always look closely when booking itineraries to see how many stops your flight may make before it gets to it’s final destination.  For a few bucks more, you might be able to take a non-stop flight, which means you’ll be able to spend more time at your final destination vs. time in the plane.  If it seems like you’re making too many stops, make sure to check other carriers that may get you there faster. 

On-time record & dependability

The last thing you want while on vacation is to have your flight cancelled or delayed.  Who wants to be spending time in an airport when you could be on the beach or on the slopes.  You should check the on-time performance of the air carriers your considering using for your flights. FlightStats, can not only give you on-time performance and cancellation statistics for most major airlines worldwide, but they can also give you information for specific flights, routes, times/dates or even how often flights are diverted.

Restrictions and allowances

Before booking, you should check to see if the airline you’re thinking about has any restrictions on how much luggage you can bring on board, how much luggage you can check, what type of sporting equipment you can bring, etc.

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