Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

A Different Way to Fly

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.”

  • SQJTaipei

    I’ve never flown any European airlines… but I’ve flown many of the Asian carriers. I’m sure we should make allowances for the length of the flights (usually trans-pacific) but the emphasis on customer comfort and satisfaction greatly surpasses ANY US carriers I’ve ever used… even on the same routes.
    An example… the typical US airline seems to wait until children on the flight have a problem and then try to address the issue… usually with a bad attitude. On the Asian carriers… the children are treated like little VIPs. They get toys and other goodies before the flight ever takes off. Their food comes early… they get fun treats from first class. I’m sure that ALL the passengers appreciate this little bit of extra mile service.
    Now… it should be said that many of the Asian carriers are highly subsidized by their home governments. But the atmosphere that the cabin crew brings to the passengers is TOTALLY different regardless of subsidies.
    When I board a US carrier, I don’t ever expect to be treated well. I am always pleasantly surprised when I am. When I board an Asian carrier, I always expect to be treated with respect and class. I’ve *never* been even slightly disappointed with these carriers: Cathay Pacific, EVA, China Airlines, Singapore Air, and Malaysia Air.

  • Mel

    European and Asian carriers that fly international routes are, as SQJ states, subsidized by their governments. The domestics on the other hand, are less so, and in consequence, have much less service than an international flight. Both the European and Asian carries that I have flown internationally have had wonderful service, but domestic routes, especially the ones I have taken in Japan are even more crowded than typical US domestic planes. The seat pitch is even closer than US carriers and sometimes even another seat is added to the width of the row. This is pretty cramped for a 6-foot-tall American. Fortunately, those flights are short. Generally there was not cabin service of any kind on those routes, as well.
    The service on US carriers on international flights is much better than on domestic routes, in my experience. Since my company allows me to fly Business class for most international travel that has something to do with it, but even in Coach the service seems better. I can’t recall having a bad experience on international flights, while I have had many on US domestic routes. I don’t know why the flight attendants are grumpier on shorter flights, but they are.
    I honestly don’t pay much attention to the announcements, so I can’t say for sure if international carriers are as concerned with cell phones. I’m personally pretty glad that we have to turn our phones off; I can’t think of anything worse than sitting next to someone talking loudly (over the cabin noise) on a cell phone for an hour or two.

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