I remember one of thier Jumbos parked at a remote stand at FRA for some weeks (or even months?) after they shut down in 2000. I think it was N620FF.
Never flown them, but I flew once with a US charter operator which cant have been better -ATA. An adventurous route: Papeete-Honolulu-Las Vegas-Bangor-Frankfurt. A run-down former Delta Tristar with a loose, vibrating ceiling section, yellow and smelly from nicotine inside. There was a fight beteen a reckless chain-smoking mom which had forced her children to sit beside her and some nonsmokers sitting directly behind. I was one or two rows further back to witness it. The smoking section ended in the middle of a compartment, no devider prevented the nonsmokers from being "gassed". Before takeoff, the FAs couldnt close a door for more than one hour and had to call two servicemen to repair it.
Funny, in 1987 my parents booked a trip for the three of us that included flying into Rome and flying home from the UK, as we needed to be there for a wedding. All of our intra-European travel was done by road, rail and ferry, including a wonderful trip through the Italian and Swiss Alps by train that went through the Simplon Tunnel, and a fast trip from Geneva to Paris by the then-new TGV. Anyway, this trip down Memory Lane is only relevant because the outbound flight JFK-Rome was on Tower, and the return flight LGW-JFK was on ATA, so it provided a great comparison between these two bare bones, generically-named carriers.
Needless to say, although I was young, I was old enough to be annoyed and concerned that my father hadn't chosen to have us fly on 'real' carriers, which in the day would have included TW, PA, BA or AZ. We had done a couple of flights on PeopleExpress two years earlier, and I thought that was quite low-brou but I had never even heard of Tower and ATA before this trip! Thinking back, as these would prove to be my only flights on FF and ATA, I guess I was 'lucky' I had this opportunity and experience! And I'm sure the cost of flying on the legacy airlines mentioned would have been exorbitant for an itinerary like this, so it makes sense now. All tickets were booked through a travel agent.
Keeping in mind my age, here are my thoughts on FF: it was apparent even to my eyes that everything - I mean everything - about this airline screamed cheap! From the terminal at JFK (no hiding it had been hastily converted from a hangar,) to the old aircraft, Tower did not exude any class or feeling of safety or security. The plane looked old, felt old, and their original livery didn't even look like they had finished painting it. Upon takeoff, my only recollection of the flight itself, the overhead bins and ceiling panels shook and swayed far more than any aircraft I have seen before or since, and the overhead reading lights flashed on and off randomly throughout the cabin. I'm sure it wasn't a huge safety concern but it definitely did not instill a feeling of security about FF's maintenance. Keep in mind, flying in the 1980s was not as safe as flying today; it amazes me that FF never had a serious issue or crash in all their years of operations. As for on-board service, I don't remember the food (or even if we had any?) but the rest of the flight must have been largely uneventful. Upon landing in Rome, we didn't land in the main Fiumicino airport, of course, this was at CIA Ciampino Airport on the outskirts of the city. As with the NY experience, it felt very much like a 'fly by night' organization and that's about the best pun I can come up with to describe FF. I did later find out that the plane I flew on was once Braniff's Big Orange B747, obviously bought cheap after they went out of business, so that was kind of cool!
My thoughts on ATA: Of course LGW is not LHR but it has flights all over the world, so it doesn't have that second-best option feel to it unless you are used to LHR and only LHR. ATA had a much more significant operation at LGW than FF did at CIA (for starters, they used a jetbridge!) The L-1011 looked to be in good condition and the cabin was probably basic but it was a much more cheerful place than Tower's run-down B747. Indeed it seemed like ATA and their crew actually cared about their customers, and I do recall them being very friendly. Keeping in mind that personal IFE was about a decade away for almost all carriers, but there was a movie shown and the food was decent enough for the 7.5 hour flight to New York. I have always loved the Lockheed TriStar and it was one of only a handful of flights I ever managed on this type, but I always enjoyed this aircraft. I had no issues with ATA and would have happily flown them again, unlike Tower, although I did hear their service did go downhill in the later years before they went out of business.
So in summary, from my 1987 eyes, FF was pretty poor, if not scary, and ATA was a decent, low budget option. Expectations have certainly changed in the 32 years since these flights! Even a basic, budget airline across the pond is likely to have personal IFE options now, but food/drinks and any extras are likely to cost more, which is what PeoplExpress, Tower and ATA were all about. I guess they were ahead of the trend but is that an excuse to let FF off easy? I think TowerAir were like Ryanair but with old, decrepit planes and facilities, not a very inspiring or comforting place to spend time. From all that I hear, their crew did the best they could with the limited resources they were given, which wasn't very much.