Mark D. Roberts

Part 1 of series: European Reflections 2007
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I don’t do a lot of flying. As a pastor, mostly I stay put and shepherd my own congregation, with only an occasional sojourn to speak at a conference or preach at another church. I consider it a blessing that my line of work doesn’t require much plane travel because, quite frankly, I’m a fairly cranky flyer. Teeming crowds, long waits, and jam-packed coach sections are just not my cup of tea. (Picture to the right: Greenland from our plane.)

Even though I’m not an experienced flyer, it did strike me that Europeans have different values when it comes to air travel. At least this was true of the European airlines we flew on this trip: Luftansa, Aegean, and British Airways. I began thinking about this when, as we were getting ready to leave Los Angeles, I heard almost nothing about turning off my cell phone. On American flights, seemingly endless announcements prevail upon us to turn off our electronic equipment, especially our cell phones. There must be at least a half dozen such pleas each time a plane gets ready to take off. But on Luftansa, I was reminded about this only once. I mentioned this to a more experienced traveler, and he agreed, admitting that he accidentally left his cell phone on for most of the flight. I wonder: Why don’t the European airlines make a bigger deal about turning off your cell phone? Are they less worried that harried executives will try to sneak in a call? Or do they simply figure that people are smart enough to turn off their equipment without being prodded?
The next obvious difference between European and American airlines is the matter of food and drink. These days, of course, our airlines flying within the U.S. don’t even provide much by way of food and drink, unless you consider a sip of soda and five small pretzels a meal. (I’m not counting the lavish service in first class.) Now I suppose we Americans do better with longer flights, but I’ll bet we don’t reach the standard of cuisine found on European airlines. Even in coach, the food is tasty and plentiful. Wine is served gratis, not in tiny bottles for which one must pay five dollars, preferably in exact change.
This is not to say, however, that I necessarily liked (or even tried) all of the food that was offered to me by my polyglot flight attendants. On our Aegean Airways flight from Frankfurt to Athens, the main dish was a tasty beef stew. But the salad – I suppose you call it a salad, since it came with a package of salad dressing – was a strange concoction of unidentifiable vegetable stuff. My wife, being a more courageous person than I, both tried some of this stuff and asked the flight attendant what it was. At this point the young woman’s language skills faltered, but, with considerable prompting from my wife, she identified our edible plant life as a mushroom.
Before I sign off on this blog post, let me put out a request to my readers for your input. I expect many of you are more experienced air travelers than I am. So tell me: Am I right about the cell phone announcements? And the food? Are there other differences between American and European (or international) airlines? Yes, I know I didn’t mention the multi-lingual announcements, but this seemed too obvious.
Speaking of such announcements, let me close with a funny but slightly off-color story. Some years ago, friend of mine was flying on Swissair. As the plane touched down at an airport, the captain came on to thank the passengers for flying with their airline. In English spoken through a heavy German accent, he gave the usual spiel: “I hope you had a nice flight. Thank you for flying Swissair. Etc. etc.” Then he came to the last line, in which he wanted to say, “Please consider us for your next trip.” But at this point the captain’s English faltered. He couldn’t remember the English word for “trip.” So, instead, he substituted the German word, and said the following. You figure out how it actually sounded in English. “Please consider us for your next . . uh . . . Fahrt.”

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