Travelers Tired of the Unfriendly Skies Should Skip the Big 3 Airlines

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Travelers struggling to determine the true price of airline travel amid hidden fees will be faced with another struggle this holiday season: rude employees.

The discount travel site Airfarewatchdog.com surveyed 1,005 travelers and found that American Airlines is considered the rudest, followed closely by United, with Delta coming in third. Which was the friendliest of the airlines -- or, in this case, the least rude? That came down to a four-way tie between Alaska, Frontier, JetBlue and Virgin America.

It's probably not a coincidence that United and Delta are also the carriers with among the highest fees for reservation changes, traveling with a pet, and on-board food and drinks.

In other airline rudeness news, it was reported Thursday that flight attendants on Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific Airways have threatened to stop smiling at passengers this month over a pay dispute. And not just smiles: They plan to hold the food and alcohol hostage as well, and follow work rules that would cause flight delays.

American Airlines has just announced a new pricing structure that includes bundling perks into three coach-class fare types. The most basic fare will still require fees for changing flights and checking bags, but another package includes the option to change flights and check bags at no charge, as well as priority boarding and extra frequent flier miles. It's too soon to know if the changes will increase the airline's customer service -- or at least its reputation for customer service among travelers.

High-Profile Problems

Airlines have long struggled with image issues, including several high-profile social media kerfuffles,

Earlier this year, Spirit Airlines' CEO denied a refund to a dying war vet after his doctor deemed him too sick to fly. Last year, Delta caught heat for charging troops returning from Afghanistan excess baggage fees totaling nearly $3,000, despite an agreement with the Department of Defense not to. And who could forget 2009's United Breaks Guitars video series?

Then there's the all-around unpleasantness of flying.

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The growing frustration among travelers stems from nearly every aspect of air travel, from aggressive security screening to a lack of in-flight food (or exorbitant costs for those snack boxes).

According to a recent Tingo study, 47 percent of passengers think misbehaving children are the worst travel hazard, and 58 percent want child-free zones on flights. The study also showed that 9 percent of passengers don't approve of frequent fliers getting expedited security clearance.

Increasing fees, fewer flights with more passengers, and delays are all out of the average airline employee's control. However, how those issues are addressed and managed at the individual level makes a large difference to frazzled travelers. Of course, dealing with frazzled travelers is no picnic for employees, either.

To minimize travel stress, utilize automated services as much as possible. Allow plenty of time to clear security, and dodge the check-in counter entirely whenever possible by checking in online, and using curbside baggage check. And lastly, indulge in free travel luxuries to make the journey more bearable.

Molly McCluskey is a frequent traveler and regular contributor to The Motley Fool. Follow her on Twitter @MollyEMcCluskey. She doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned.
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