Have you ever needed to make a choice between several equally bad options? I’ve often bragged about having Orlando as our home airport has allowed us to fly almost anywhere we wanted non-stop, or at most with one connection. Now that I’m trying to plan a flight to the west coast, I’m finding that my options are limited.
None of my choices are great, so I’m left choosing from a terrible product, a better product with terrible times, and an airline we won’t fly on.
What to do?
Why do I dread flying across the U.S.? Well, maybe it’s because flying from the U.S. to Europe takes 8 to 9 hours and on those flights, I can get a lie-flat seat in business class if I so desire. Flying across the U.S., the best I can expect, if not flying from NYC, is a seat that reclines a few inches for a six-hour flight.
I’m trying to book a flight from Orlando to San Francisco. Linking the 15th largest city in the United States with one of the most popular tourist destinations and the busiest airport in Florida would seem to be a popular enough route. However, there are only two airlines that fly non-stop between the cities.
The airline with the most non-stop flights between the two locations is United, with two flights daily in each direction. Here’s how we feel about flying with them, so that’s a hard no. The test of your morals is when you put yourself through hardships to keep them.
San Francisco to Orlando
The only other airline that flies direct between the two cities is Alaska Airlines. We’ve flown with Alaska on a trans-con flight before in each direction. The trip on their 737-900ER is by no means luxurious.
Flying on the narrowbody single-aisle plane is not the most comfortable way to spend six hours. The aircraft do not even have seatback entertainment, but they do have Wi-Fi and power outlets. For a flight returning home, a morning departure from SFO will get us back home around 6PM after the time change. All things considered, this is still the best choice for us, even if it’s a bit more expensive. Paying for this ticket makes sense since Alaska is charging 20,000 miles for a one-way ticket. That’s more expensive (in relative terms) than the cash price for a ticket and also means the ticket isn’t eligible to redeem using Avios (which can only be used if saver space is available).
Orlando to San Francisco
Now that I decided on a flight home, I still needed to get to San Francisco. The Alaska flight doesn’t leave until 7PM, arriving after 10PM. That flight would cause us to lose the entire first day of our already short trip. There are other options, but I’m not crazy about them.
At this point, my decision is not based on the quality of the product or the timetable but on the fact that I have a bump voucher from American that’s expiring in a few months. I never used it because there are not many places we can fly non-stop from Orlando on American but if we need to take a connecting flight, might as well fly for free.
There are several options for getting to San Francisco from Orlando. The cheapest alternatives would route us through Charlotte or Phoenix. I know from past research that all of those flights would be on ex-US Airways A321s. These planes have no entertainment and no power outlets.
To get one of American’s newer A321s, I’d have to travel through Dallas. This is a more direct routing and would have us on A321s or combined with 737-800 aircraft. Still not the best options, but since each flight would only be a bit over 4 hours, that’s manageable. Each of these planes also has Wi-Fi and power outlets. I just have to remember to pay the money for Main Cabin Extra if I plan to work on my laptop.
I wish that I was one of the people who lived in a city where getting to fly in a business class with lie-flat seats for trans-con flights was an option. Something like JetBlue Mint or an American A321T would be nice. However living in Orlando, the home of leisure travel, means that we generally get the worst airplanes of the fleet flying to our airport.
I’m not complaining and it’s gotten better since Delta started to fly their updated planes to Florida. Other airlines have needed to keep up, proving competition is a good thing.
Flying across the country is still challenging since not many west coast cities have non-stop flights to Orlando. Sure, we can get direct flights to Seattle and Los Angeles, but anything else usually means connections or having to take the one flight a day on the schedule.
What about your home airport? Is there an area that’s relatively inaccessible to reach directly with the present airline routes. How do you choose what airline to take? Do you pick based on price, schedule, the hard product or a combination of the three?
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary