There’s more to choosing an airline than just the price. The picture above was taken the second time we made this flight. The first time, they turned around because the descent into the hanging valley in the Bornean Highlands was too dicey. Believe me, if these guys who fly into this valley every day are not willing to take the chance, it’s best to trust them. So, where possible, choose an airline with experienced pilots. When I flew for Pan American, I always knew that the pilots had been air jockeys in some world war, and so they knew a whole lot more than just how to land a plane without instruments!
One of the first places to start your research on an airline you are not familiar with is Skytrax, at http://www.airlinequality.com/. They rate for safety and a bunch of other things you will want to know about. They also have a comments section for people who have just flown that airline.
Another very good place for information is http://www.seatguru.com/. Here you can find the seating charts for your flight and see how much room you have in and between seats, as well as the kind of entertainment options you will have – important on a very long flight. For instance, here I could figure out that the long flight from the USA to Johannesburg could be done in comfort or misery, with small differences in the price. Delta had the best price, but South African Airways was a much better deal for us. At the time, the pitch for Delta’s flights to JNB was 31-32″(pitch is the term for the distance between the seats). South African Airways was slightly more expensive, but they had a pitch of 34″ and the configuration was two and three (two seats along one side, three on the other), meaning that the two of us could take a whole row and not have to deal with other people for bathroom, exercise and chat breaks. When you are going to be in a plane for 14 hours, these little things add up quickly. We have learned that making conversation with a total stranger can be very difficult after the first hour or two. If you choose your airline wisely, you can make a long trip into a refreshing nap and time to catch up on the latest movies!