Gary Stoller, USA TODAY10:23 a.m. EST December 2, 2013Frequent business traveler Mark Davenport says U.S. airlines do nothing better than their counterparts in Europe, Asia or the Middle East.
Davenport, who lives in Nashville and works for and information technology company in San Francisco, says foreign airlines’ jets are newer, cleaner, more luxurious and provide better service.
“I cringe at the thought of having to travel one of the U.S. airlines internationally,” says Davenport, who was abroad on business trips about 120 nights this year.
Davenport gives United Airlines kudos for its new Boeing 787 jet, but he quickly takes a slap at the airline.
The “same grumpy, curt service attendants” were on the 787 jet, but the aircraft “gave me hope that things are improving,” Davenport says.
United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson says the airline has “invested significantly” to upgrade its airport and in-flight facilities and provided employees “more and better tools to deliver good service.” Customers “are telling us that their experiences with United are at their highest levels in several years,” he says.
USA TODAY asked more than 100 other Road Warriors — some of the world’s most frequent business travelers who volunteer information to the news outlet — to explain what travel industry companies do better or worse than those abroad. Many business travelers agree with Davenport that foreign airlines are superior to those in the U.S. Their opinions, though, are more divided regarding hotels and other travel industry suppliers abroad, vs. those at home.
Many business travelers cited Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, All Nippon Airways, Emirates and Air New Zealand as the benchmark for the best planes and customer service.
Frequent business traveler Herkea Jea of Fremont, Calif., says Japan’s All Nippon, also known as ANA, is his favorite airline, because it provides “great food and professional services from first class to economy.
“I really feel every penny spent on my ticket is worthwhile,” says Jea, who works for a wireless communication equipment company and has spent more than 120 nights abroad this year.
Jea and other Road Warriors, though, say U.S. airlines have better frequent-flier programs — with more generous seating upgrades — than their foreign counterparts.
“U.S. airlines are significantly better with their frequent-flier programs, more generous with mileage accrual and definitely better with frequency of flights,” says Stephen Tao, a television industry executive in Los Angeles.
Katie Connell, a spokeswoman for the U.S. airlines’ trade group, Airlines for America, says U.S. airlines have spent about $1 billion a month during this year’s first nine months to improve customers’ travel experiences.
U.S. airlines, she says, have, among other things, opened new airport terminals and clubs, bought new planes, introduced gourmet food and improved websites and mobile applications.
Tao and many other Road Warriors favor foreign airports to those in the USA. “No question, big-city foreign airports are like Mecca in comparison to the urban squalor of some big-city U.S. airports,” Tao says.
Frequent business traveler Linda Peterson of Chandler, Ariz., prefers U.S. airports.
“European airports have so much duty-free shopping areas and are more limited on restaurants,” says Peterson, the president of a health care consulting company who has spent 45 nights abroad this year. “There is also no real rhyme or reason to how they have their gates organized.”
Road Warrior Greg Jones, a management consultant in Conroe, Texas, says he once favored foreign airports, but big-city U.S. airports have significantly modernized and improved.
They have “a lot more options for food and retail shopping than 10 years ago, and many have been remodeled,” Jones says. “In my opinion, many foreign airports are in need of a face lift.”
Several Road Warriors point out that train travel is far superior in Europe and Asia than in the USA.
Peterson says she spent three weeks traveling on trains in Switzerland and appreciated how easy it was to use an iPhone app to reserve seats, buy tickets and get boarding passes.
European hotels, Tao says, uphold traditions and unique experiences better than hotels in other countries. Asian hotels “are generally more luxurious and more of a respite than other hotels,” he says.
Business hotels such as InterContinental and Shangri-La “can outperform U.S. hotels in many ways, but they are not always better,” Jea says.
“In Europe, hotels located in an old town with historical heritage tend to have smaller rooms,” he says. “In Asia, there is no such thing as old hotels. All new five-star hotels are good and worth a visit.”
European and Asian hotels usually deliver “a richer, classier experience,” Peterson says, and “seem to have more character from an interior design and architectural standpoint.
“Staff are well-trained, treat you like a VIP, and no job is too big or small for them,” she says.
Many Road Warriors, though, applaud U.S. hotels for various reasons.
European and Asian hotels “sometimes hold too strictly to protocols,” Tao says. At American hotels, “there’s generally more flexibility to meet a guest’s needs.”
European and Asian hotels “don’t tend to recognize” the status of elite members of frequent-guest programs as much as their U.S. counterparts, Peterson says.
If you are a Marriott Rewards platinum member, for example, “they don’t seem as concerned with making sure they have upgraded your room,” she says.
Though Tao says travel suppliers abroad often do many things better, their American counterparts may make travel more seamless for business travelers. “USA travel feels more transparent,” he says. “Information seems more readily available and understandable.”
Jones agrees. “You can go on any airline or hotel website in the USA and get up-to-date and better information.”*****************************************
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