Air Travel Lament

I know you guys must be sick and tired of my making excuses for not blogging by telling you I’ve gone on another trip. But it’s true – I promise!

This time I jaunted off to Kyiv, Ukraine for a few days. Good times. I didn’t have my camera, so I didn’t take any photos, unfortunately, but I can tell you that they did a bang-up job cleaning up from the Maidan riots! The city looks cosmopolitan! Lots of beautiful architecture intermingled with soviet-era building wrecks. There’s no parking enforcement there, so cars are just kind of piled up any which way, blocking traffic and causing problems.

Despite all this, the food is amazing, the people are friendly for the most part, and I felt like I was in the middle of history being made!

We stayed next door to the Saint Sophia cathedral.

sophia

And only a couple of blocks from the Maidan where the protests took place only a few months ago.

maidan

It was a bit surreal, to say the least.

The trip over was marred by yet another strike of Lufthansa workers in Frankfurt. This happened the last time I was in Europe two weeks ago, but luckily did not affect my trip back, because I was on a United flight out of Frankfurt. This time… we were to fly Lufthansa into Frankfurt and then take a connecting flight to Kyiv, but that was not to be.

We were rebooked on a Turkish Airlines flight through Istanbul, which would put us in Kyiv six hours later than originally planned, keep us in the airport for five extra hours, and keep us on a transatlantic flight a bit longer. But you know what? Well worth it, because the Istanbul airport is awesome, and the service on Turkish Airlines is fantastic!

Speaking of airlines…

I’ve traveled quite a bit. I’ve taken Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, KLM, Turkish Airways, and a whole host of U.S. airlines, and I have to say – as Americans, we ought to be ashamed!

Seriously.

Let me provide a few examples.

Boarding: Why is it all other airlines in the civilized world have figured out that boarding from the rear makes more sense than boarding from the front, where any douchebag with a suitcase big enough to carry a bovine carcass, sitting in row 10, will hold up the entire boarding process by trying to shove said oversized bag into the overhead compartment, causing at least two flight attendants to clog up the aisle helping him shove that thing up there, while the rest of the passengers wait in an endless queue?

Service: On every European airline I’ve traveled, you are kept as comfortable as you can possibly be on a 9-10 hour transatlantic flight. They keep you well hydrated, offering water or other drinks every hour or two. U.S. flights? Not so much. You’ll be lucky if you get some water without asking.

On every European flight, they offer you a hot, moist towel before a meal. You freshen up, you wipe your hands of grime. After all, who wants to see a long line of hundreds of passengers trying to file through the handful of lavatories just to wash their hands before a meal? Smart idea, right? Apparently not so for our American flights. Screw that. It takes extra work!

Turkish Airlines staff come around and give you a little pouch which contains a soft pair of socks – clean ones for you to use on the flight and keep afterward – a toothbrush and a little tube of toothpaste, some lip balm, because dehydration is a problem, and an eye mask, so you can sleep. The seats recline, with the bottom of the seat moving forward slightly for a more comfortable, complete reclining experience. The plane is clean. The video monitors are all equipped with a USB port, so you can actually charge your electronics in flight. And slippers. They give you slippers. You know why? Because your feet get gross in a pair of whatever shoes you’re wearing, and it’s nice to just be without shoes for a few hours while you fly.

No such luxuries on my United fight back home. You’d be lucky to get a clean seat. My monitor was covered in some sticky gunk that was likely there for weeks and had turned black. No way I was touching that shit! No extras. Nothing. You get your little cup of water, tea/coffee – if you ask for it – twice during the flight (not including meals), and some non-functioning headphones (I got those twice).

Food: Oh good lord! I can’t begin to describe the crimes against nature that were the meals on United, especially compared to what I’m accustomed to on other airlines! For example – on Turkish Airlines, you get handed an actual MENU. I had the salmon with horseradish sauce, sliced cheese with tomatoes and cucumbers, meatballs with rice and grilled vegetables, and a dessert, as well as a cup of water that came included with the meal in addition to whatever you wanted to drink when the drink cart came around. Coffee was fresh. Orange juice was actually fresh squeezed. Breakfast was a cheese omelet, fresh bread, coffee, etc. Lufthansa served pasta with tomato sauce and vegetables, as well as a nice, fresh roll, a bottle of water and a dessert. I’ve had shrimp salad, chicken teriyaki, an assortment of cheeses and other human food on European airlines that included actual… you know… silverware!

On this particular United flight back, I selected lasagna. The lasagna noodles were so tough and stale, that the cheap, plastic knife actually bent as I tried to slice into it! The roll – which I think was supposed to be a ciabatta roll – was so stale, that the cheap, plastic knife couldn’t even cut into it. I tore at it with my fork, which wasn’t much more effective at slicing the damn thing in half. Biting into it and chewing, I was grateful I didn’t break a tooth. The salad was nothing but lettuce with a single cucumber slice. The dessert was a recently-defrosted piece of crumb cake. Know how I know it was recently defrosted? Because when I bit into it, I received a not-so-welcome squirt of liquid that denotes something was recently rescued from a freezer. GAH.

I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I asked for some orange juice. Yuck. From concentrate with a bitter-ish aftertaste. At least the hot tea was good!

Booze: Free on any civilized airline.

Q: “How much is a glass of wine?”

A (haughtily): “This is Air France. It’s free.”

Any U.S. carrier.

Q: “How much is a beer with my dinner?”

A: “We only have Budweiser, and it will be $756 and your newborn.”

Listen, I’m not spoiled. I understand air travel isn’t always convenient or comfortable. But I also travel enough to know that we are doing something fundamentally wrong! We pay thousands of dollars to be treated like cattle with no extra effort to make customers even remotely less uncomfortable, while European carriers really go the extra mile.

And by the way, this is in no way an indictment of the flight attendants, who generally do the best with what they have, which isn’t much, and have to put up with a whole lot of crap from unhappy people. I generally try to be extra kind to them and not ask them for much, because I know they’re probably as miserable as the rest of us.

But a little extra from the airline in general would be nice.

I mean, if you’re going to be stuck on a 9-hour flight with a gargantuan guy next to you overflowing into your seat, shouldn’t you at least warrant a bloody face mask so you can sleep?

9 responses

  1. Isn’t it great that United seems to be on a quest to buy up every major US carrier and make them as crappy as they are?

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    1. Yeah. Can’t wait for that. It would be great to see some airline come along and offer better service and better prices and just kick those others in the nuts!

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  2. Be glad you are not 6′ 3″. Riding in airplane seats at my height is akin to being stuffed into a Vietnamese Tiger torture cage. The seats either force my head froward in an unnatural position forcing me to constantly lean forward to prevent neck strain, or more often they provide no support at all allowing me to lay my head back and stare at the ceiling.

    If I’m lucky my feet will hit the floor otherwise they are usually suspended above the floor because my knees are impacted in the back of the seat in front of me. To avoid crushing injury to my patellas I usually prevent the person in front of me from reclining which is not hard because the humerus is mostly non-compressible.

    Boarding- Ha!! I was traveling from Phoenix to Portland. The stewardess-gheyette announcing “pre-boarding” asked for those that needed extra help boarding to board. An elderly hispanic lady with her arm in a sling was followed by 13 others (family members?) to board. I was going to raise a stink but as usual the wife was not happy with me pointing out the obvious stupidity of the situation. It seemed that by the time they boarded all the “Special” people, there were two random seats left for the wife and I.

    I have to disagree with you about meals on a plane. I don’t want food of any kind while flying. I’ll consume a little water or apple juice otherwise I just want to be left alone. Its a plane not a restaurant.

    Honestly it will be a cold day in hell before I fly anywhere in the USA. I’ve flown 16 times since 911. Fifteen of those 16 times the wife and I have been pulled aside and given the “extra” security screening. The last time I became pretty vocal with the TSA asshole and told him that getting pulled aside 15 of 16 times was not random. Needless to say you would be hard pressed to get me on a plane if you had a gun pressed to my head.

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    1. Azy – I am fine with food, especially on transatlantic flights. And quite frankly, the money these airlines charge is obscene enough to warrant some goddamn sustenance.

      And as for the security theater, all I have to say is TSA Pre and Global Entry!!!!!! Best goddamn $100 I’ve ever spent. Avoids all the security hassle and has you out the door in seconds upon your return when coming from oversees while everyone else stands in lines from hell at passport control! WIN!

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  3. Well I’m not flying back from some third world shit hole like Detroit so that would not work for me.🙂

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  4. I vaguely remember flying once or twice before Reagan “deregulated” airline travel. It was better than now, but my God, it was more expensive. The trouble being that he may have deregulated the airlines, but the airPORTS are mostly regulated to a fare-thee-well by one level of government or another, and veery singe layer of statist buttinski feels he has the right to put in his three cents worth (their asinine opinions being worth 50% more) about just about every aspect of air travel.

    The TSA is a prime example of what happens when an agency is created that nobody with the intelligence of a turnip thinks will do any good. Bush couldn’t NOT create it; demand that he “Do Something” was almost universal. But everybody possessed of the merest moiety of his marbles knew that the next bunch of terrorists who tried to take over a plane full of U.S. citizens were going to end up in the overhead luggage compartment in somewhat used condition. So TSA got precious little oversight (Bush was busy, and so were his people), and was a dumping ground for the Cowboys, the Empire Builders, and the useless twits that had worn out their welcome in agencies that actually had something to do.

    In a way, it’s amazing it isn’t WORSE.

    I have observed a recurring theme with Lefty Intellectual writers bemoaning deregulation; I suspect the long for the days when air travel was limited to the Select. I also suspect that the non-US airlines you sing the praises of may jet be propped up by their governments in some vague idea that it adds to their prestige – sort of like a bankrupt city building a new sports stadium.

    Yes, the service on U.S. airlines is lousy. I frankly suspect that this is because our fellow citizens apparently cannot grasp that if you are unwilling to pay a little extra for good service, you aren’t going to get it. And furthermore, you won’t have the opportunity to get it when you really need it because the service oriented business has gone bust and all you are left with is the equivalent of Big Box stores and/or Walmart.

    I’m rambling here, but I guess my point is that if flying non-U.S. airlines is so much better, then let’s by all means give them our business where possible. Maybe the U.S. airlines will go bankrupt, like GM, and be taken over by the Feds, whereupon service will be so preternaturally surly that it will spark an uprising.

    *sigh*

    one can dream.

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  5. You must try Colonial Air Lines. They only have DC3 s but the food served tastes GOOD. Of course if you fly from DC to Syracuse you will be stopping at every landing strip to load/unload mail and milk cans but you will get to your destination safely…they have never had a fatal crash. All you have to do is go to the airport and find gate 81/2. Bon voyage.

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  6. I think you’ll find that the airlines you liked so much were state subsidized. So people who weren’t flying helped pay your ticket.

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    1. I have no delusions about the subsidized airlines. That doesn’t change the fact that their service is FAR superior to the crap currently offered by the U.S.-owned companies.

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