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Fear of Flying

Posted in Style & Travel

You owe it to yourself to check out Gary Shteyngart’ short piece on his (mis)adventures on American Airlines if, nothing else, to laugh yourself silly. As I was writing, a tidbit popped up on my screen about Spirit Airline charging up to $100 for carry-on luggage, followed by the news that a number of AA flights were turned around because entire seat rows were coming loose. I thought of Mr. Shteyngart’s piece and finally felt no shame in unequivocally stating that US airlines suck. Big time (an opinion validated by Sir Richard Branson this morning on NPR).

Now, now; it’s not the Europhile in me coming out here. Upon demand, I can rattle a long list of things/services/experiences where the US beats the old lady hands down. But airlines and cell phone service don’t even come close.

For years, I only admitted to a close circles of friends and family, always under my breath and feeling slightly guilty, that I do not fly any US airlines ever, unless held at gunpoint or out of sheer necessity (read: no other options). Virgin America has made my life easier by entering the US market a few years ago, with brand spanking new planes, good movies, courteous staff and somewhat edible food (for a fee). Oh, yes, and great fares to boot. I sighed a sigh of relief.

A couple of years ago, I commuted to San Jose, CA every other week for three months, and was submitted to Southwest boarding cattle calls. The first time I showed up for boarding, I clearly was the odd man out  – even if aware of the first come first served SW policy, I was in the dark about the boarding tiered system. If you happen to have been assigned to the C group of passengers boarding the plane, you are pretty much assured a middle seat. Every time. And every time I did, as I had no frequent flier card with SW or any of their partners, no children in tow and I never got to the airport early enough.

All my experiences, even pre-2001 with US Airways, American Airlines and Delta have been sub-par ones: old aircrafts, poor cleaning standards and, by and large, crews that would have clearly been happier being somewhere else. And now, everything costs money. Even dirty blankets. My flying habits have evolved as more and more services have been taken way: I tend to pack my own food and toiletries, I bring my entertainment and, on long flights, I might throw in a nice smelling blanket too.

Fuel surcharges and mounting airport taxes have affected airlines the world over. Everyone has made cuts to their routes, services, staff and number of flights but most European and South East Asian airlines have managed to keep up a modicum of good service, friendly and accommodating staff and aircrafts that don’t look as if they fought in WWII.

Flying has become an activity that requires endurance, patience, sense of humor and a touch of masochism. Training in Transcendental Meditation also helps. A clean seat that doesn’t dislodge and the expectation to be treated as a human being should still be included in the fare.

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One Comment

  1. My recent trip on United was OK actually, if we don’t mention the food…
    For me the biggest difference between European and US carriers is that US flight attendants are more experienced (i.e. old enough to be European flight attendants’ mothers). Not that I mind, I don’t at all, it’s just very noticeable.

    October 11, 2012
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