For anyone that flies or has flown on commercial airlines, below is an interesting and entertaining piece from the Guardian.
I have known this for years, which is why I avoid US carriers and most European ones.There was a saying, I believe used by cruise ships a long time ago, that said “Getting there is half the fun”. Of course, that ended long ago, but current travel in first class of the best airlines is not bad and a begin to any vacation. And, first class of the top carriers bears no resemblance to first class on a US carrier, except that both get you from point A to point B.
Don’t take my word. You can read an article from Vanity Fair on Emirates and the Dubai Airport. Notice the photo of the baggage claim area and compare it to ones you know in the United States…or Heathrow.
I have a new hobby: Flightradar24.com. I can play with a few times of day, to see what planes fly what routes.
I became interested after the Malaysian plane was shot down and routes over war zones became an issue. Airlines are free to choose their routes, and economics usually the key determining factor is the decision. Fuel is one of the many variables in an airlines cost structure.
I have a few flights planned in the months to come, whose route passes over Iraq. Some people seem to think that folks on the ground have the means and the desire to shoot down an airplane. Some airlines have announced that they will re-route flights to avoid Iraqi airspace, even if this means higher fuel costs; others have announced no change.
Fortunately, Emirates is one of the airlines that will avoid Iraq and fly over Iran. I have been able to confirm this by checking the routes flown on Flightradar. I also like to see routes I have flown in the past, usually seen on the Airshow in the plane. I also can check the progress of Number One Son, as he pings back and forth across Europe on his bus routes.
I had looked at flight tracking programs in the past, but none were as good as this one. I can even see planes taxiing, rolling down the runway for takeoff, or on final approach. This is more enjoyable than a video game, because I can relate to the experience.
The statistical chance of losing an airliner under unexplainable circumstance, as did Malaysian Airlines recently, is astronomical. This is unprecedented. The chance of losing a second aircraft under equally unusual circumstance is surely incalculable.
One must have sympathy for the families of those losing loved ones, but one must also feel sorry for the management of the airline and responsible government agencies. No one wants to deal with such a tragedy in the glare of international media.
Finger pointing will go on for a long time, because this was a civilian plane brought done over contested territory. As expected, all three sides—Russia, Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists—are claiming innocence. Combating sides are quick to claim success upon bringing down one another’s aircraft, but no one wants to accept blame for civilian deaths. What is certain is that unsophisticated people have gotten their hands on sophisticated weaponry. (Pro-Russian separatists reported shooting down a Ukrainian transport plane, so they are also unable to identify aircraft). There are reports that Russia has been providing separatists with weapons to redress their susceptibility of Ukrainian air superiority.That is a better explanation than if a Russian military plane shot down a foreign civilian aircraft.
Now, added to fighting over real estate in eastern Ukraine, there will be a battle as to who investigates the accident and writes the official report. A lot will be said in the media. Also, there will be a scramble to find the black boxes. Regardless, the truth will be elusive…
Having traveled a lot in my life, I tend to be critical of airlines. I know what I like, I know what is good, and I know what is possible. My preferred carrier during my business life was Lufthansa, although I found Singapore, Cathay Pacific, Swissair, and Qantas to be suitable alternatives on routes Lufthansa did not service. I have never been a fan of British Airways, despite its advertising claim of being “The World’s Favorite Airline”. It was dependable, but rather drab. Having had contact with the British military, I understood the mentality of the operation.
Recently, I have become a fan of Emirates, but most decisions are driven by price. Although prices are favorable, quality is not short-changed and can be superior to most more-expensive carriers.
I just watched a program on BBC about British Airways. The seem to want to show how great it is, but failed. First of all, they showed the training of a new generation of cabin crew that are paid less than old crew and equal to that of budget competitors. It is strange to be touting the fact that you pay your people less. How can a crew function properly, if there are hidden issue of fairness? Next, they proudly showed their first A380 and its maiden flight to Los Angeles. Surprisingly, they also mentioned that Emirates has 39 A380s, which makes their one rather pitiful. Finally, they showed the seating in first, business, and economy. I was greatly disappointed with the first class, in comparison with Emirates and Lufthansa. Business looked are poor, as well. They were even foolish enough to interview first class passengers about the food, both of which were critical.
Fortunately, I do not foresee a need to fly on British Airways. It might be satisfactory and able to get me to my destination safely, but there are better alternatives, despite their self-delusion.
How can you keep them down on the farm--or on the ground--once they’ve flown first class...
During the flight from Dubai to Frankfurt, I recalled some of my previous flights. My experiences could be a metaphor for my life: things kept getting better as I grew older.
My first flight was from Norfolk, Virginia, to Boston on an Eastern Airlines (which no longer exists) propeller airplane. The ticket cost $18, which was a large sum. One could drive the same distance for a few dollars worth of gas. Both the price of gas and airline tickets provide a lesson in inflation, for anyone interested in such trivia. Anyways, I had escaped from a school trip to perform a play at Black colleges (I was in the stage crew) to visit my uncle and cousins and needed to get home. My father was angry at the school chaperone for letting me leave, but scraped together the money for the airfare. Boarding was different in those days: I showed my ticket at the door and was pointed to a plane parked on the ramp. No jetways. No body searches. Fortunately, there was no rain. And, I have no photos from that time.
My next airplane experiences were in the back of a 707 crossing the Atlantic to Germany to visit my brother, who was defending the “free” world against the threat of communist invasion through the Fulda Gap. All I recall is that I was stuck for eight hours in a middle seat between two heavy smokers and food arrived on an aluminum tray, not unlike a TV dinner. For some reason, chicken comes to mind.
On my second flight I across the Atlantic, I had a camera and must have had a window seat. I was fascinated by views of Greenland, which I had learned in geography is not green
Various flights within the United States are memorable only in comparing them to flying now. Everything was easy. I do not recall any longing to sit in first class; I merely wanted to get from point A to point B. Fares were cheap.
My first flight across the Pacific was in a civilian 707 (company offering chartered flights to the military) from McChord Airbase in Washington to Cam Rahn Bay Airbase in Vietnam. I was fortunate enough to be sent to Vietnam late in the war, when the military was flying replacement troops and not sending them by ship.
The only privilege afforded officers was to seat in the front, but we had the same three across seating. Once again, I ended up in the middle seat. I recall the flight being very quiet, because no one seemed to be celebrating arrival at the destination. Every passenger wondered, I am certain, if they would be making a return flight.
We stopped in Anchorage and Tokyo for fuel, which provided a chance to stretch our legs. My strongest memory of the flight is the emotional speech made by one stewardess, after we landed at Cam Rahn Bay, wishing us all luck. It worked for me. I do not recall the flight home, other than that we landed at some air force base near San Francisco and I caught a flight to Denver to visit friends.
The following years saw several flights back and forth across the Atlantic on charters and various airlines.
In the late 70s, the exchange rate for dollars fell precipitously and prices took some time to level off. Anyone traveling to the United States from Germany benefited, so flying first class was downright cheap. Of course, flying economy was even cheaper, but I was young and foolish and on vacation. Those were the final days of luxury first class in the United States, where caesar's salad was mixed at your seat, chateaubriand was sliced on a cutting board at your seat, and ice cream was served by the scoop, not in a plastic container...or at all. That beats even the best first class service of late. Seats have improved, but food has not. Business class had yet to be invented.
Prices caught up with exchange rates, which even swung back the other way every few years. The best I could afford--or was offered by my employer--was business class. Plus, I had the burden of filling more seats. And, spoiling my kids, so that they did not have to suffer on a charter flight.
I became addicted to first class travel during my years as an executive for a global company and learned the subtle differences between airlines. Since then, I strive to avoid US carriers, all of which are far inferior to international brands. First class of some US airlines is inferior to business class on the best “foreign” carriers. And, even on the best of airlines, first class seats do not protect you from a hard landing any better than the ones in the back...and perhaps less, because they have individual speakers.
My wife and I have decided that, if we have to fly economy, we will not fly. That sounds arrogant, but it is merely a question of comfort and traveling only for pleasure. We prefer to stay home than to ride in the back of an airplane. Of course, this often limits destinations, because one can reach islands only on regional carriers
. Therefore, we will no longer visits places we enjoyed in the past, such as Abacco in the Bahamas or Ko Samui in Thailand. That is not a problem, because the choice of destinations reached by real planes is great. Some carriers offer very favorable rates on business and first class fares...which explains why I travel to and through Dubai so often. I have learned that the only thing better in airline travel than first class is an empty first class.
What is not good is a standby first class ticket, which one can buy if related to a Lufthansa employee. We learned that this is not such a good deal, when we were downgraded to economy, despite having a first class ticket. Paying customers and employees with a higher priority get the seats. Lufthansa economy is better than most, if not all, other airlines' economy, but it's still economy.
Somerset Maugham is supposed to have said that the best trips take place in the imagination. There is some truth in that, but one must get out and see places to feed the imagination. And, the guy never experienced first class travel in a modern jetliner. An old ad for ocean liners once claimed that getting there is half the fun, which was written in a time when trips took days. In the age of jet flight, getting there needs to be comfortable, not fun.
For example, Emirates business class is excellent and even good enough (here is a comparison photo, showing those suffering in the back).
But a first class cabin is the way to go (unless your ego--and net worth--is so large that you demand flying by private jet).
To be honest, this is not about flowers; this is about travel, air travel. Below is a photo of the orchid in a first class compartment of an Emirates Airline 777 (similar to the type of airplane so frequently mentioned in the news recently).
I learned again, on the flight from Frankfurt to Dubai, something I knew, but had not thought about for some time. This could be a Saying of the Day, but that might be a bit presumptuous. What is better than first class? Answer: empty first class (except you, of course).
After a perfect flight, we are now in Dubai. Cultural shock has set in, as well as the need to adjust to hot, dry weather.
I noticed something, which has been obvious for years. Aviation has made great progress in the past decades. Airplanes are technological wonders and comfort has been improved (at least in business and first classes on major international carriers). The one feature that has changed little, if at all, and is hardly different in any class...is the toilets.
I guess that airlines and airplane manufactures have decided that the expense of improvements is not worth them money. This is a necessity with which people will be happy to have, no matter how old-fashioned.
The only exception is the shower on the A380, but the toilet is about the same....
As I expected, who finds the Black Box of MH370 is more important that simply finding the thing. This is obvious from the posturing and tone of reports from various countries involved in the search.
Mere sighting of debris by Australian, French, US, or British personnel is greeted with wonder and hope. Last week, the Australian prime minister was confident. Now that the Chinese have discovered a tone on the frequency of a black box, all reporters are treating the report with skepticism. No one trusts the Chinese or wants them to be successful. The Australian government is now urging caution and even complaining that the Chinese have told the world. British reporters seem upset that they were not permitted to be the first to discover something significant, simply because they have deigned to help the search. They give the impression that this is their right.
If the black box is indeed found, the battle to determine who gets to evaluate the contents should be entertaining....
This item probably did not make the news outside Europe, especially in the United States because the story is about pilots and not a plane crash. And, who cares about a strike?
Lufthansa pilots are on strike for three days. Being the largest airline in Europe and one of the world’s biggest, you can imagine the turmoil caused by the cancellation of thousands of flights. The strike started at midnight last night, so planes and crews are scattered around the globe. Ticket holders in Germany receive free train tickets, international passengers are given free re-booking. A few flights are being operated by non-union pilots, but the number is insignificant.
People tend to side with striking workers in this country, but not in this case. The general tenor is against the pilots, because the majority feel that they make too much money. Germany is a country of jealous people. No one likes to see a neighbor earning more or even working longer hours. Pilots are one of the highest-paid groups, with senior captains making more than many CEO’s.
Number One Son, who joined the union, is enjoying a paid vacation in Berlin. Fortunately, the weather is fine, so he is visiting the zoo, beer gardens, and shopping arcades. He does not care how the strike ends up. Pilots tend to have a strong bargaining position, because the company cannot replace them...
If there is a list of truly bad jobs, I want to suggest an addition. I have a great deal of sympathy for Malaysia Airline employees in Beijing, who must face distraught and increasingly angry relatives of ML 370 passengers. How many times can you express sympathy and offer no news? Excuses never replace reasons.
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.