Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Some Perceptions on Travel Outside the US

A friend recently emailed me asking about booking travel from the US to India, and experiences with airlines. I offered my personal (and very limited) perspectives to her two questions, and thought I'd share them here. This is about personal travel by coach with a close eye on the budget. Anything you'd like to add is welcome.

Q: I'm planning a trip to India. Do you know and use any good travel agents, or do you just book online?
A: I do know of good travel agents (and supplied that information to our friend.)

However, the online options have improved a lot over recent years and I've found very good deals on http://www.kayak.com/ and http://www.orbitz.com/ in that order. The fares fluctuate and the best ones may be available for just an hour or so before they are snapped up. So if you've time it is best to check multiple times every 4 - 5 hours, and/or at odd times like early morning or late night.

The other thing is that for international travel their systems don't work well in real time. So just like Travelocity has problems even in domestic flights, these sites often display low fares that they later say are no longer available when you proceed to book your travel. You do sometimes get those lower fares when you try subsequently. 

Frequent flier miles sometimes come in very handy.  Daughter Sheena got a business / first class ticket for her forthcoming trip from Austin, TX, to Lima, Peru on American Airlines for relatively few (60K) AAdvantage miles.  This is on dates when paid fares even in coach are very high.

Q: Which airline have you mostly been flying? Are you happy with it? Have you ever taken the Air India nonstop? (i.e., the direct flight from New York or Chicago to Delhi or Mumbai.) I'm curious about it, and also about its quality aspects.

A: Some of my recent trips to India have been on Delta non-stop from JFK (since discontinued), American-Swiss combos via Zurich, Air France via Paris, and Thai Airways. The US airlines typically have the skimpiest service, especially American, while the European (and Thai) airlines have better food and cheerier attendants. Continental is better among the US carriers, though. They took great care of us in Frankfurt when we were stranded for 3 days due to bad snowstorms in the US.
In contrast, when we flew American Airlines and missed a connection in Zurich due to a late incoming flight, they wrongly blamed this on the weather and we stayed a day at our own expense without any help from them. They ultimately paid up months later, but that's a long story.

There are mixed reviews about Air India but my experience on all 6-7 trips on it has been very good. A couple of times passengers tended to be unruly or unsophisticated - a Sardarji swaying drunkenly after several free drinks, and some passengers getting up from their seats on landing while the plane was still taxiing on the runway. But those were sources of amusement rather than inconvenience for me / us.
To us personally the Air India crew has been very attentive, polite and gracious, emblematic of typical Indian hospitality. On one occasion after we were airborne a flight attendant noticed I had long legs and of her own re-seated me (and Anita) in a more spacious section. At other times the flight attendants have plied me with multiple alcoholic drinks when I requested for one (may be I look like a boozer.)

And those traveling non-stop from the US to on Air India have generally liked it a lot even in coach - plenty of leg room, good food, unlimited drinks, polite crew, etc. Jet Airways invariably receives rave reviews though I've not used it for international travel myself, and they don't offer non-stops to India. In general it's better, faster and less uncertain (due to delays and missed connections at intermediate airports, volcanic ash in Europe, etc.) to travel non-stop from US to India. So I'd recommend it, on Air India or whatever.

Moreover, the crews are individuals so experiences can vary - I've often seen great attendants and got service to match even on my lowest ranked airline, American Airlines.

No comments: