I know you guys must be sick and tired of my making excuses for not blogging by telling you I’ve gone on another trip. But it’s true – I promise!
This time I jaunted off to Kyiv, Ukraine for a few days. Good times. I didn’t have my camera, so I didn’t take any photos, unfortunately, but I can tell you that they did a bang-up job cleaning up from the Maidan riots! The city looks cosmopolitan! Lots of beautiful architecture intermingled with soviet-era building wrecks. There’s no parking enforcement there, so cars are just kind of piled up any which way, blocking traffic and causing problems.
Despite all this, the food is amazing, the people are friendly for the most part, and I felt like I was in the middle of history being made!
We stayed next door to the Saint Sophia cathedral.
And only a couple of blocks from the Maidan where the protests took place only a few months ago.
It was a bit surreal, to say the least.
The trip over was marred by yet another strike of Lufthansa workers in Frankfurt. This happened the last time I was in Europe two weeks ago, but luckily did not affect my trip back, because I was on a United flight out of Frankfurt. This time… we were to fly Lufthansa into Frankfurt and then take a connecting flight to Kyiv, but that was not to be.
We were rebooked on a Turkish Airlines flight through Istanbul, which would put us in Kyiv six hours later than originally planned, keep us in the airport for five extra hours, and keep us on a transatlantic flight a bit longer. But you know what? Well worth it, because the Istanbul airport is awesome, and the service on Turkish Airlines is fantastic!
Speaking of airlines…
I’ve traveled quite a bit. I’ve taken Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, KLM, Turkish Airways, and a whole host of U.S. airlines, and I have to say – as Americans, we ought to be ashamed!
Let me provide a few examples.
Boarding: Why is it all other airlines in the civilized world have figured out that boarding from the rear makes more sense than boarding from the front, where any douchebag with a suitcase big enough to carry a bovine carcass, sitting in row 10, will hold up the entire boarding process by trying to shove said oversized bag into the overhead compartment, causing at least two flight attendants to clog up the aisle helping him shove that thing up there, while the rest of the passengers wait in an endless queue?
Service: On every European airline I’ve traveled, you are kept as comfortable as you can possibly be on a 9-10 hour transatlantic flight. They keep you well hydrated, offering water or other drinks every hour or two. U.S. flights? Not so much. You’ll be lucky if you get some water without asking.
On every European flight, they offer you a hot, moist towel before a meal. You freshen up, you wipe your hands of grime. After all, who wants to see a long line of hundreds of passengers trying to file through the handful of lavatories just to wash their hands before a meal? Smart idea, right? Apparently not so for our American flights. Screw that. It takes extra work!
Turkish Airlines staff come around and give you a little pouch which contains a soft pair of socks – clean ones for you to use on the flight and keep afterward – a toothbrush and a little tube of toothpaste, some lip balm, because dehydration is a problem, and an eye mask, so you can sleep. The seats recline, with the bottom of the seat moving forward slightly for a more comfortable, complete reclining experience. The plane is clean. The video monitors are all equipped with a USB port, so you can actually charge your electronics in flight. And slippers. They give you slippers. You know why? Because your feet get gross in a pair of whatever shoes you’re wearing, and it’s nice to just be without shoes for a few hours while you fly.
No such luxuries on my United fight back home. You’d be lucky to get a clean seat. My monitor was covered in some sticky gunk that was likely there for weeks and had turned black. No way I was touching that shit! No extras. Nothing. You get your little cup of water, tea/coffee – if you ask for it – twice during the flight (not including meals), and some non-functioning headphones (I got those twice).
Food: Oh good lord! I can’t begin to describe the crimes against nature that were the meals on United, especially compared to what I’m accustomed to on other airlines! For example – on Turkish Airlines, you get handed an actual MENU. I had the salmon with horseradish sauce, sliced cheese with tomatoes and cucumbers, meatballs with rice and grilled vegetables, and a dessert, as well as a cup of water that came included with the meal in addition to whatever you wanted to drink when the drink cart came around. Coffee was fresh. Orange juice was actually fresh squeezed. Breakfast was a cheese omelet, fresh bread, coffee, etc. Lufthansa served pasta with tomato sauce and vegetables, as well as a nice, fresh roll, a bottle of water and a dessert. I’ve had shrimp salad, chicken teriyaki, an assortment of cheeses and other human food on European airlines that included actual… you know… silverware!
On this particular United flight back, I selected lasagna. The lasagna noodles were so tough and stale, that the cheap, plastic knife actually bent as I tried to slice into it! The roll – which I think was supposed to be a ciabatta roll – was so stale, that the cheap, plastic knife couldn’t even cut into it. I tore at it with my fork, which wasn’t much more effective at slicing the damn thing in half. Biting into it and chewing, I was grateful I didn’t break a tooth. The salad was nothing but lettuce with a single cucumber slice. The dessert was a recently-defrosted piece of crumb cake. Know how I know it was recently defrosted? Because when I bit into it, I received a not-so-welcome squirt of liquid that denotes something was recently rescued from a freezer. GAH.
I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I asked for some orange juice. Yuck. From concentrate with a bitter-ish aftertaste. At least the hot tea was good!
Booze: Free on any civilized airline.
Q: “How much is a glass of wine?”
A (haughtily): “This is Air France. It’s free.”
Any U.S. carrier.
Q: “How much is a beer with my dinner?”
A: “We only have Budweiser, and it will be $756 and your newborn.”
Listen, I’m not spoiled. I understand air travel isn’t always convenient or comfortable. But I also travel enough to know that we are doing something fundamentally wrong! We pay thousands of dollars to be treated like cattle with no extra effort to make customers even remotely less uncomfortable, while European carriers really go the extra mile.
And by the way, this is in no way an indictment of the flight attendants, who generally do the best with what they have, which isn’t much, and have to put up with a whole lot of crap from unhappy people. I generally try to be extra kind to them and not ask them for much, because I know they’re probably as miserable as the rest of us.
But a little extra from the airline in general would be nice.
I mean, if you’re going to be stuck on a 9-hour flight with a gargantuan guy next to you overflowing into your seat, shouldn’t you at least warrant a bloody face mask so you can sleep?