Saturday, November 1, 2008

Travel Tips: Foreign Airlines Provide Good Alternatives

Air travel is expensive, and options often seem limited for that flight to, say, Prague. One thing I discovered in flying with United Airlines was that money can be saved by flying with their Star Alliance partners, including Air Canada and Lufthansa (of Germany).

The benefit to programs like the Star Alliance is that travelers can make use of different routes and, often, cheaper fares. Furthermore, with a partnership program, you can book different legs of your flight on different carriers, but since they work together, you're not out of luck if you miss a flight. From my experience, the amenities on foreign-flag carriers exceed those of American carriers.

Lufthansa, for example, offers free beer and wine, and you need not be 21. Oh, and the beer is good German beer. You can actually have anything you want, said one male flight attendant to my sister, adding, "even me."

I don't mean to bash on American carriers, but I just felt more pampered when I flew on Air Canada, Lufthansa and British Airways (Even economy carriers in India, like SpiceJet and Kingfisher, took great care of the flyers).

There are, however, boundaries. Unlike the United States, where we have a tradition centered around the ideal of the customer is always right and really have good service ingrained in our culture, some other cultures are more willing to give it to you bluntly.

When I was aboard a Lufthansa 777, soaring somewhere over Ireland as we dropped toward Frankfurt, a German flight attendant carrying a pitcher strolled down one aisle, offering, "tea, tea, tea."

Though it was obvious to me what she had, a woman in the row in front of me wasn't so perceptive. "I'll have coffee," she said, excitedly.

The flight attendant leaned toward the lady and said, "I have tea. That's why I'm saying, 'Tea, tea, tea.' " With each "tea," she moved a few inches closer to the woman.

Perhaps the customer is usually right, but sometimes stupid.

Waiting to take off from Brussels on a British Airways flight, the chief flight attendant, in her English accent that just somehow added to her authority, told everyone to turn off the cell phones, electronic devices, etc.

Several seconds later, her voice addressed the entire cabin again. This time, she was clearly annoyed. "One of my cabin attendants has informed me that someone is using a mobile telephone. Turn it off immediately. You may think you're being clever, but you're not."

Of course, everyone in the plane looked around, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sufficiently chastened passenger.

To me, those episodes were comical and well-deserved. Having served a few thousand people in the restaurants I worked at, I also understand that many Americans simply can't take that kind of criticism. If that's you, perhaps you should stick with Delta or something.

Foreign-flagged carriers are a great alternative for flights to distant parts. They often allow a better option for arrival and departure times, and are sometimes government-subsidized, allowing for cheaper airfare. I would do a quick Internet search on their safety records before booking a flight, but it's always in their best interest not to crash multimillion dollar aircraft, so they all typically make safety a chief concern.

1 comment:

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

Your comments about non US airlines are well observed, but as you ended on the safety issue i thought you might be interested to hear this.

i once lost a cell phone on a united flight into Denver, being a persistent sort of chap i spoke to everyone who worked for the airline i could, in the end a senior guy levelled with me
"I barely have enough staff to get the planes turned around, let alone to search them"

Sobering thought isn't it. i still fly whenever i get the chance though!