Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A flight gone wrong.

While we're on the subject of air travel, let's talk about airlines. Air travel should, I feel, be somewhat glamorous. Being lifted from one destination to another, the glitz of the jet age, and all that. Yet it so rarely is. There are all sorts of things that can go bad on a flight: uncomfortable seating, poor quality entertainment, inedible food, bad service from attendants. And sometimes, all of these things go bad on one single flight.

Last year in the US, Bordeaux and I took flights on a variety of US airlines, most of which were rather poor in quality. They charged for everything short of water, flight attendants were unfriendly and disheveled (what's with the US airline custom of having flight attendants wear factory-reject jackets with giant shoulder pads? who does that look good on?), and the airplanes were often rather unclean-- we once found tissues waiting in of our seats, and an old pair of socks in the other's. Yet really, none of that prepared us for our United Airlines Flight UA940.

The flight was shared with a European airline, the flight attendants of which grudgingly greeted us as we boarded the plane. The first thing Bordeaux did as he sat down was to adjust the tiny movie screen in the seat in front of him-- and its plastic cover immediately popped off. Bordeaux laughed awkwardly, and the flight attendants laughed with him-- and then did nothing to help as he tried in vain to get it back on. That tiny screen was of very little use anyways, as we soon found out we had only three movies to choose from, none of which were even remotely watchable. I believe 'Wild Hogs' was in the mix. Something to drink usually helps a lengthy and boring flight, and it would have helped here-- unfortunately, United Airlines charges for alcohol on flights between the US and Europe, even wine.

By the time our meal arrived, we were starting to see the humor in how bad the flight was. Which helped, as when pulled back the little tinfoil cover, we were greeted with a pile of tomato sauce glop that even after eating I still couldn't identify. Was it cannelloni with cheese? Lasagna with chicken? On the side was the obligatory white bread roll (freezing cold and rock hard), and a side salad that literally was composed of shredded lettuce, and not a single other ingredient.

We were quite happy to leave this flight... until we got into the airport. I should also mention that this flight was followed by our layover in Frankfurt, which meant we got to follow an awful flight with an awful airport.

Air travel can still be rather attractive, I should point out. I've had great experiences with South African Airways-- decent meals, good entertainment, and a fantastic and free-flowing selection of South African wines (their customer service off the airplane, however, is another matter). I have good memories of Air Tahiti Nua, where the fantastic crew (and their heavy hand when pouring drinks) made us feel like we were already in the South Seas from the moment we took off from LAX. Perhaps the best flight I've been on recently was with Air Asiana. At meal times, which always included some Korean options, the attentive and professional staff accented their already stylish uniforms with embroidered aprons-- a really fantastic touch to add a little more style and character to the flight.

What have been your best airline experiences? Your worst?


Postcards and Coasters said...

I think the glamour of flying is long gone. I love talking to the 30 + year flight attendants and hear tales of the way it used to be when everyone got all dressed up etc.

I haven't been to Frankfurt Airport in a while but I spent 3 days trying to get out of there years ago and also thought it needed some TLC.

I've had some great service when flying and bad. I always wonder why if someone is so miserable they don't find another line of work.

Bordeaux said...

You forget, that flight out of Mexico actually DID charge for water. Remember what a fuss they kicked-up when Peter and Olivia tried to take a large bottle of water onto the flight for Maddie? And remember how that one stewardess on the flight was never without gum ala Britney Spears, it was like being in some really down and out tacky diner, sans fun trashy food.

Cate said...

Sadly, I never associate flying with glamour, I see it as a pain in the butt. My recent flight from Panama City to Miami on American Airlines but it felt more like a holiday -- for the attendants. Trays and chairs were not secured when landing nor taking off, the movie was still rolling as the plane taxied up to the landing bay, people were standing while the plane was landing. Plus the coffee sucked.
And then there was a delay with disembarking.
I guess I was spolit when I lived in Asia, they know service and how to do it well.
I think the more I travel the more I dislike flying.

Anonymous said...

In the last 10 years I have rarely experienced good air travel within the United States. With that said, it's also rare to experience an absolutely terrible flight. My experience with smaller local airlines are always the way to go -Thai Airlines, Garuda Air, Japan Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Asia and Firefly were a few airlines we used while traveling throughout Asia and always the delicious food, culturally interesting dressed flight attendents, orchids upon boarding and the always present kind mannerism of everyone. But I have found this to be true of other small airlines - Alaska Airlines, Jamaica Air and Hawaiian Airlines. Stick with the small guys when you can - it makes a difference. And now I am more excited than ever to hear your experience with Air Asiana because we are flying with them from Seattle to Vietnam for the Tet New Year celebrations in February, even more excited than ever now!

Scotsman said...

Without a doubt in my experience the worst airlines have been the Airlines in the US. Northwest Airlines was particularly bad. The flight from Glasgow to Amsterdam using KLM was fine, even managed to get fed breakfast despite the fact that it was a short flight. As soon as Northwest took over things took a turn for the worst, the food on the first plane was rubbish but at least it existed if somewhat infrequently and of minuscule proportions. The tiniest bag of pretzels I ever saw, I think there might have been 5 in it, a small meal 6 hours later which was very tasty but I gulped it down anyway not realising it would be another 4 hours before I saw a glass of orange juice. The second plane was worse, it was unbelievably hot, the only tv at the back of the plane was 6 aisles up from where I was sitting. So I decided I might as well fall asleep, only the flight attendant kept screaming in a high pitched voice all the way down the aisle "Do you want some water, Sir!" That was all that there was to offer. Needless to say I arrived in Salt Lake city very tired indeed.

In contrast I love Emirates. The food is good, you get decent proportions with each meal and you get it frequently In my flight to New Zealand I got fed every 3 - 4 hours. And the legroom is far superior to anything that I've found on American flights. Decent inflight entertainment too.

kristine said...

there's nothing like the asian airlines. and there's nothing worse than the american ones. yet another reason to miss asia!!