Why are Asian airlines so superior to American ones? This is a question that I've wondered literally for years--it's hard not to compare the steep differences after you've flown on a few different carriers from both sides of the Pacific.
Even when you fly coach, Asian flight experiences are so much less of a headache than their US counterparts. You get more personal space, your own monitor for entertainment (bonus: they actually work, too), much healthier food and--perhaps most importantly--a much more refined and respectful staff. Basically, higher standards on everything.
This WSJ piece sums up the problems plaguing the airline industry in America in comparison to Asia. After the native New Englander-writer spent years flying Asian carriers pretty much exclusively, her senses were unpleasantly jolted upon her first flight aboard an American one. Her main issues were the inefficient and surly stewardesses coupled with the poorly maintained plane itself. Evidently these problems are remnants from decades ago:
The differences lie in history. Since airline deregulation in the late 1970's, America's big three have struggled with "legacy issues"--an industry term for older workforces, higher salaries, pensions and union contract that all add up to higher costs.
Not only are Asian airlines relatively unhampered by these issues, but they're also blessed by the fact that their region is seeing phenomenal growth in passenger traffic. Asian airlines in recent years have accounted for half of total industry profits. And those earnings are wisely reinvested into newer planes, cutting-edge seats and innovative entertainment systems.
I should note the two US-based airlines which seem to at least be trying to keep up with global competition--Hawaiian Airlines (which appears to be doing the best out of all the American carriers the past few years) and Virgin America. But somehow the "big three" aren't what they used to be (or were they ever?) despite all their ancillary fees, which Asian carriers rarely charge (so far).
Now that nearly all of China's airlines are outperforming and outranking America's, it is clearly time for our carriers to wake up and revamp their strategies.