International travel: Using American-based airlines vs foreign

Next year I am planning a trip to Thailand. This will be my first time going to Asia, and English is my primary language. When hunting for flights, I have the option of Delta or United…or a series of foreign airlines (Cathay Pacific, EVA–which features Hello Kitty on their livery, Air China) which feature layovers in their host country.

As an American traveler, is there a better incentive to fly with my home country’s airline, as opposed to my layover country’s? Most of the flight times which are more convenient for my plans are hosted by the foreign airlines, while United and Delta are both “take off at 11 AMish, land around midnight, with 4 hour layover in Japan”. My concerns with a foreign airline are dealing with customer service if there is a delay or cancellation, as well as handling the layover. I don’t want to get stuck in a culture/language shock if there are any problems along the way.

On a related note, why aren’t there any direct flights between the US and Bangkok? Is that too far of a distance for a plane to handle? (I would think that Los Angeles to Australia would be a longer flight than that…)

U.S. airlines are teh suck. Use one of the foreign carriers and enjoy the free booze, or at least some free wine with your dinner. I regularly see Asian airlines getting best airline accolades, so that’s a plus too.

As for the language barrier, you’ll be dealing with international carriers, and with the international language being English, you’ll be fine.

With Cathay Pacific, it’s also one of the local languages. I’d be more concerned about language issues in Japan than in Hong Kong.

I haven’t flown Cathay Pacific or EVA, but worrying about use of English with foreign carriers simply isn’t a real concern. As a general rule, major foreign carriers tend to have better service, but I just can’t share any experiences with those two carriers.

ETA: if you’re going from NYC to Bangkok, it is basically the same distance to head west or east. You might want to see if any gulf carriers have competitive prices, like flying Emerates through Dubai. Major carriers based in that area are clearly a cut above US airlines, no question.

I’d really like to do a around-the-world trip, but that would cause me to have to use two different airlines, which will skyrocket the price.

I’m just starting to remember how much US-based airlines actually suck. The three times I’ve flown to Europe, I used Lufthansa, British Airways (Concorde) and Swissair, and they were all much better than any domestic flight I ever took. I don’t know how much Delta and United beef up their international flights though, if at all.

The Cathay Pacific flight works the best with the hours I need. So far the reviews for them look good too. Is it true that flights are cheaper on Tuesdays and with cleared cookies?

Agreed on both the level of service and the use of English, fly a well rated foreign carrier. You will likely wonder why US Carriers don’t treat you like foreign ones do. You will probably hear in flight announcements in other languages but they will be translated into English in most cases ditto for the Airport. This is IME YMMV, you can ask while booking if you are worried. Have a great flight.


I flew on Air Canada Jazz and service wasn’t any better or worse than US carriers that I’ve flown on. They did happen to offer French-language service, but they spoke English pretty well and at no time did they make me feel uncomfortable as an English speaker.

Cathay Pacific is very, very nice.

Large foreign airline (i.e. those who can fly into the US, not Air Tchad and the like) are generally much better than their American counterpart. Expect goodie bags with masks and socks, hot towels in the AM, and complementary booze. English will almost certainly be spoken by the air staff. I can’t recall a flight without some English, and I’ve flown a lot of regional carriers in random countries.

That said, a lot of long hauls fly under foreign airlines but are operated by US airlines. The experience may not be as nice in those situations.

Have fun@

I’ve heard that the Asian airlines have very good service.

I’ve flown to Europe a number of times on European airlines and I can’t really tell much difference. Lufthansa, KLM, British Airways, they weren’t really that much better than Delta, Northwest, American, United. Maybe slightly better food.

I’ve flown a lot on Air Canada, and they really are no better than the U.S. airlines.

Cathay is much better than the US carriers and the English level is fine. It’s a very international airline. Eva is much more a “local” Taiwanese airline but their English is fine as well. Foreign airlines do a ton of business with English speaking passengers and cater to them.

Versus the old battleaxes on United that basically tell you to sit down and shut up.

I’ve flown Air China (Yichang to Shanghai) and all in-flight announcements were made in both Mandarin and English, and I was able to speak to security personnel and gate agents in English, so I assume you wouldn’t have any trouble there.

My only international flight experience with US airlines was a United flight from SFO to Beijing. It left 4 hours late and the service sucked, no compensation provided. I think the only airline nobody in my family has ever had an issue with is Lufthansa.

Thai Airways used to have nonstop service between New York and Bangkok but stopped a couple of years back, because it was losing money on the route. They also flew nonstop between Los Angeles and Bangkok but stopped even more recently for the same reason. I have flown between Bangkok and Honolulu some but can’t recall if there are any direct flights on that leg either. (Well, Hawaii is still the US.) We always use China Airlines for that route.

I often joke that I actually prefer not to use US carriers since there aren’t that many people trying to blow up other countries’ aircraft. But that’s only half-joking really. Anyway, we fly Taiwan’s China Airlines a lot. They often have the best prices, and we’ve generally been happy with their safety and quality. Weird thing is this past April, the flight to New York had tiny seats on all three legs. Smaller than I’d ever seen before. If I’d been the least bit fatter, no way I would have fit. I was dreading the return trip to Bangkok, but then the seats on the planes used all turned out to be normal size. Weird.

You mentioned Air China. They’re okay. We’ve flown them between Bangkok and Beijing/Shanghai. I’ve even flown them domestically in China, and they were still good. (Some countries’ airlines have a significant difference in quality between international and domestic service, but Air China still seemed good.)

I wouldn’t sweat the possibility of being stuck for hours in a strange airport. First, it probably won’t happen, and second the airline will have someone to guide you.

Can you find out whether or not the Delta flight is actually operated by Air France (they are partners). If it is, you can get some amazing food.

I prefer to fly non-US carriers whenever possible (at least major ones) because US airlines have gotten so appalling bad in recent years. Foreign carriers will give you better amenities and better service than most US lines.

I had occasion to fly Air China from LA to Manila with a long layover in Taipai earlier this year. The flight was fine. In Taipei I wanted to change my seat for the Manila leg. The customer service person at the counter was helpful but her English left a bit to be desired. However, I suspect that if there had been a more important issue to deal with they could have rounded someone up. During the layover I was able to use a rather nice lounge area with free internet. (I assumed at first it was restricted to premium class travelers, but no one tried to chase me out.)

In Latin America I try to fly Copa when possible. They still have amenities like meals and free beer/liquor on international flights that are long gone on American, Delta, and United.

I’ll second trying to find out if your Delta flight is actually flown by Air France. I’ve had the very best meals I’ve ever had on an airline when I’ve flown US-Paris.

Once, though, my luggage was delayed on a flight via Paris. To tide me over, they gave me the most amazing toiletries case I’ve ever seen. Being French, it included condom “just in case.”:slight_smile:

Thanks for the advice everyone. I booked my flight with Cathay Pacific, and got the Premium Economy upgrade, which is about another $400 each way, but I chose a front row seat so I could get the leg recliner. It isn’t every 30 years that I fly to Asia, so I figured I might as well go in style.

For anyone who has ever vacationed in Thailand (specifically Koh Phangan), I will probably have more questions in the upcoming weeks, but I got the big thing out of the way now.

I live in Thailand but have never been to Koh Phangan. But if you have any other questions, feel free to PM me in case I miss your thread.

Good choice going with Cathay. I agree, US airlines are teh suck. I would rather clean up vomit than fly the piece of crap airline that is United.

Language is a non-issue. Most large foreign carriers will have announcements in multiple languages, which virtually always include English. Some of their steward(esses) are also bi/multilingual. I think in general, bilingual abilities are part of the job requirement for serving on a major foreign airlines’ ground staff and flight crew.

Personally, my favorite is Singapore Airlines. The nice thing about Asian airlines is that there are always good looking stewardesses who don’t go about their job as if they are constantly harrassed. Even for a straight female like me, I enjoy the eye candy.

I flew Singapore Air from LAX <-> Narita (Tokyo). Really nic, but I don’t have any other international flight experience to compare. I feel I am totally spoiled for any domestic carriers now. :wink: And the male stewards were good eye candy too. No problems with language either.

So, foreign carriers tend to have free booze and edible food, plus the staff are nicer to the customer. Is that it? How about legroom and that dreadful stale air/jet exhaust mixture? Are they any better on those?

The air thing is more of a technical issue, IIRC, rather than an airline adjusting a knob and making the air more stale or more fresh.

On seat size, if you are just talking about your standard economy seat, there’s either no difference or a slight advantage to foreign carriers. For example, a Thai Airlines 747 has an inch more legroom than a United Airlines 747. But an Emirates standard economy seat has just an inch less legroom than a United Premium Economy seat, which is why Emirates is awesome.

You can search aircraft at to get all the details, just by entering the flight numbers. The website knows what aircraft fly each route.