Boeing has been losing out to Airbus on a number on fronts, but they seem to excel at one aspect of the airplane business: stupid manufacturing process.
I consider the Airbus manufacturing set-up to be weird, but Boeing has trumped the Europeans. Airbus produces different sections/parts in different countries and then assembles the aircraft in Toulouse, France or Hamburg, Germany. They have a specially designed aircraft (called The Guppy) to transport sections of the fuselage.
Because some pilot was stupid enough to land at the wrong airport, we have learned that Boeing produces fuselage sections in Italy and wings in Japan. Beyond considering the idiocy of flying parts so far and the cost, I recalled all the discussion/ranting about US jobs. Once again, it is clear that US corporations care only about cost/profit. The thing is, Boeing has lost billions on their Dreamliner project, because they tried to copy Airbuses’ process. This is the corporate equivalent of shooting oneself in the foot. But, little is said about this...
Leaving home is a pain in the neck. You must batten down the hatches, erect lights with timers, and be sure everything is unplugged. Also, you have to beg a neighbor to take in the mail, put out the trash containers, and water the flowers. Ours is rather good about it, but she will be on vacation for part of the time. That meant asking my daughter…who makes a face. I will have to remind her by phone (which means that I will miss the rolling of eyes!)
These days, one can check-in the day before on the Internet, but that does not preclude standing in line to check bags. We arrived late, thinking that there would be no line at business class check-in. Wrong. The line was shorter at economy; so, not being afraid of being spotted in such a line, be joined that one. Still, we cut it short making it to the gate, which happened to be the longest walk in the airport. Fortunately, there was no line at passport control or at security, perhaps because we were the last ones rushing to the gate. The plane would be an Airbus 380—a full one—so there were a lot of folks ahead of us.
On this plane, business and first classes are on the upper deck. One does not mingle or even see the economy passengers, because they enter from a lower level in the terminal. Space is a far more important luxury on a flight than food. Being able to raise your legs and to lie flat is a second luxury, not to be underestimated. I have flown to Australia and back in economy and would not do it again.
Weather delayed the plane for one hour (if only we had known before rushing to the gate). A band on thunderstorms over Europe screwed up air traffic. We sat on the plane after boarding (which seemed just like having a smooth flight). It merely meant that the journey increased to 10 ½ hours from the estimated 9 1/2 hour flight time (the time in the old days, before they started cutting corners over the Atlantic).
Take-off in an Airbus 380 is smooth and quiet. They must have added soundproofing. One does not hear engine noise or the gears retracting. My wife still does not understand how such a monstrosity—or a Cessna 150, for that matter—gets off the ground. I have given up trying to explain.
I hope that Airbus Industries put more thought and effort into designing and manufacturing the rest of the Airbus 380 than they put into the toilets. They are small and very similar to ones in Boeing aircraft. The paper towel dispensers are almost worthless. It was rather surprising, since I was expecting progress and perfection. Nevertheless, if you have the choice of aircraft, I would recommend the 380. The ride is a pleasant flying experience…which is the main thing.
Airplane food is always an issue (or fodder for stand-up comedians)—except some airline’s first class service—but I have found all efforts to be “modern” to result in abject failure. This flight was a case in point. Airlines contract famous chefs to “design” their meals and offer variety. This usually means too much weird stuff for my taste. I would be happy with “chicken or beef”. This was the least-appetizing food that I have ever been served on Lufthansa. At least the desert was good. One big surprise was discovering an American wine that I enjoyed: Columbia Crest chardonnay. A rare occurrence.
Service was, as always on Lufthansa, very friendly and efficient. The young girls are always cheerful and helpful. It is rather different than North American carriers, where seniority defines the ones to get overseas flights. I always felt that I was being served by my grandmother.
An even bigger surprise was arriving at a new terminal in Miami. I used to hate the old one, which I had endured for thirty years. Lufthansa is nice enough to keep the economy class penned up until first and business class passengers have disembarked, so we had a head start on the long walk to passport control. There was no line, which meant that we were quickly through to the baggage claim…where we had to wait. The terminal might be new, but baggage handling is still the Dark Ages variety. Miami does not feature Frankfurt Airport automation.
Finally, we were able to plunge into the heat, humidity, and exhaust fumes at the taxi stand. We missed the limousine service found in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Bangkok; instead, we got a beat-up Ford, with dodgy A/C and sagging seats. The driver had trouble understanding our destination: the Mandarin Oriental, one of the leading hotels in Miami.
This hotel provides a good way to ease into the US. Upon entering the lobby, odors and décor reminded me of Asia. Sure, we are in Latin America, but the hotel is Asian-owned. The ambiance and service are unlike that found in American chains. This is also obvious in the restaurants; the staff might be Latin, but the menu is Asian-inspired. It is one of the few hotels not offer spaghetti! The food is rather good, which is a compliment from someone used to European cuisine and critical of what’s on offer in this country.
Our room looks out on Biscayne Bay, Brickell, and a portion of the Miami skyline. I am reminded (only slightly) of Hong Kong, of course without the Chinese or the harbor hustle and bustle. We can see the apartment building where Number One Son lived for one year, before pursuing his aviation career. We can also see Jade, an up-market
condominium building, which featured in my novel, Righteous Revenge. I got the idea of using this location from visiting him.
We managed to stay awake until almost 9 o’clock, when jet lag and unappealing television offer overcame best intentions…
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.