Crowds. Endless wait times and delays. Hours spent trapped in a cramped metal tube. All of these are realities of flying, and all of these inconveniences are redoubled when it comes to flying internationally. But, does it have to be that way? To some degree yes, but not to the extent that American travelers have come to expect.
Foreign airlines often rank much higher than American ones in terms of customer satisfaction, and the reason why may simply be because American and foreign airlines operate within two totally different paradigms of service.
In the United States, the point of profit for the airline is the ticket itself. A slew of other services associated with the ticket, ranging from seat upgrades to additional service charges to credit lines tailored to frequent travel, also contribute to airline profit. Thus, the experience of flying on an American airline is reduced to selling tickets as profitably as possible. This sacrifices comfort, luxury and in extreme cases, even convenience or safety.
Contrast this to foreign airlines like Lufthansa or the Emirates. These airlines are run, in part, by the governments of their respective countries, therefore they have a wider interest than the money they make off of seat sales alone. Instead, these airlines seek to promote travel as an end in itself. Because they are run with the intent to promote travel and commerce in the countries they are run by, they emphasize a completely different set of ideals. They try to make travel as luxurious as they can so that people are more willing to travel, thereby fulfilling their real goal.
Furthermore, the costs of flying foreign airlines can be even cheaper than flying with a domestic provider, even with the added luxury. Should you try to book a flight from BWI to Korea right now, the top eight cheapest flights come from Air Canada, Air China and Korean Air, with Delta and United coming in at ninth and tenth, almost $150 more expensive than their foreign competition when it comes to tickets bought within a week of departure.
So why fly domestic at all? The flights they provide tend to be shorter, with a flight to Korea with Delta averaging about 15 to 16 hours flight time when compared to Korean Air’s and Air Canada’s 19 to 20 hours. That certainly helps students who are generally on strict time tables to get to their programs. Domestic providers often also partner with travel agencies to provide scholarships, like one I secured with Corporate Traveler (a Boston based travel agency) which only gave me the option of flying Delta.
Ultimately, unless you have a scholarship like that or need to get abroad four hours quicker, you are better off flying foreign. The service is more comfortable, more affordable and generally superior to anything you are likely to get with a domestic airline.