I’m not a big flyer. At 6’2″ and 250-260 pounds, depending on how much Lasagna I’ve eaten and how recently I’ve Deadlifted, I’m built sort of like a Viking slave trader. This means various things, including that I don’t really feel comfortable flying. However, unless I’m ready to commit to a life on the high seas, never seeing my family again, or impossibly commit to living in the land of Walmart and SSRIs, I’m stuck leaving on a jet plane.
Generally, when I fly, I consider it something of a monastic endeavor, during which, I will explore how much discomfort my body and mind are capable of enduring in a fifteen hour period, without me flipping out. I rarely get up to use the toilet, I often don’t eat (this makes “air stewards” very uncomfortable) and since I find it impossible to sleep for more than a few minutes without violently snapping back to consciousness gasping for air, I just watch movies. It’s not fun.
But at least nobody has drug me off a flight whilst kicking my ass. Yet.
My first return trip to CONUS was nearly four years ago and we flew United. It was complete shit. From start to finish, the flight, the airplane, the staff and the timetable were trash.
The airplane looked like it had been used as a set piece for Snakes on a Plane. It was tattered, dirty and cramped.
The gentleman seated directly in front of me had, apparently, not bathed in a decade, and due to this unfortunate circumstance, was compelled to remove his greasy baseball cap and aggressively scratch his head every ten minutes or so, resulting in large chunks of dried scalp falling all over the back of his chair, and luckily for me, down onto the tray where my “food” would otherwise have been served. At one point, when drinks were being mercifully given out, not wanting to upset this poor soul, I delicately asked the huge, over-weight old woman working as a cabin attendant, if I could possibly have a wet towel, Pretty please? She obviously registered the situation, was disgusted, and my extravagant request was then met with a loud sigh, her eyes closing at the sheer toil of her own hard lot in life, and twenty minutes later she returned with one small, wet towel.
My wife looked on in abject horror and pity as I then policed up the biological disaster in my area. Notably, she shifted her petite form away from the mess. I didn’t blame her.
After the 15 hours of miracle flight time, we arrived in Washington D.C. at Dulles, the affirmative action breadbasket of our nations capital. On deboarding, not having flown in ten years, I needed to ask a question regarding our luggage and if we needed to pick up and re-check it before transferring. An older gentleman of slight build, rather stern continence, with thinning salt-and-pepper hair and a slight twinkle in his dark old eyes, wearing a United staff uniform, stood near the gate. We approached him and I asked “Excuse me, Sir, but I have a question.” He turned and glanced at me, then looked away and continued staring back down the long airport hallway. He then sighed.
“Yeh, Dog, Wachu need?” He said, not to me.
It took me an extra moment to process this, connecting his image with how he was speaking wasn’t easy, but then I figured out what he must have said.
“Well, my wife and I have to transfer and we are wondering if…” I briefly explained.
“Nah Dog, You juss check in da counta.” He said. He ever looked back at me.
“I see. Thank you for your, um, help.”
Walking away from him, dazzled by his customer service skills, and grasp on airport logistics, we almost were unable to dodge a large box of merchandise a fat black woman kicked and sent skidding across the floor of her little shop out into the terminal walk way. We just kept walking as she hollered at someone else in the shop, possibly in Spanish.
But hey, at least I didn’t get beat up and drug off the plane by security.
I’ve flown JAL, or Japan Airlines many times, both internationally and domestically in Japan. Every single flight has been good. The airplanes, paradoxically, seem to have more space than both United, which I will never even consider flying with again; I’d rather low-crawl, or Delta which is considerably less-bad than United.
It’s a paradox because generally, the Japanese are smaller than the country of elephants United is usually herding around (I’m including myself here), yet on JAL flights, seated squarely in economy, my knee caps aren’t jammed against the metal beams of the seat in front of me, there’s an inch of room left.
The flights are also clean, the food is edible. I know; incredibly novel concepts.
The staff, however, are truly what make the difference. Cabin attendants for JAL are incredible. In my own experience, they have all been fit, healthy, energetic, multi-lingual, polite, professional, very competent and attentive.
While I have no problem at all making jokes about people who choose to be flight attendants into their fat old 50’s for United and then complain about their life choices, I have nothing but respect, yes actually R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the people I’ve encountered working for JAL. At least in their professional lives, they take pride in what they do and they’re good at it.
What a crazy concept, huh?
I could also add ANA (All Nippon Airways) and, up to this point anyway, Hawaiian Airlines. Delta has done us no wrong as of this writing, but I’ll reserve judgement until I board and fly without being drug about and flayed next time.
So, what’s the point?
For starters, don’t beat up customers. I’m sure some old-timey business mogul wrote this gem in a “How to…” book someplace, and it seems Japan, despite it’s business woes, got this one right. Second, wouldn’t it be something if Americans tried taking pride in, and responsibility for, the jobs which they themselves choose to do? This, instead of treating customers as some kind of albatross they are forced to carry?
Ironically, it’s been a bit of a toss whether Aeroflot attendants or either JAL’s or ANA’s has the worst English on their international flights.
Aeroflot sounds like a pair of sneakers with lights on the bottoms. JAL was good when I flew it. Never used ANA. Look, their English can’t be worse than the Central Americans manning the last United flight I was sentenced to.
Well, that and they almost pulled the United trick. I was almost asked to leave a domestic flight because I drank a beer that I bought in the airport on the plane. They were worried that a 110 KG male was going to be drunk on one beer (the stewardess said). Right….talked them pout of that one and I didn’t even need a lawyer.
that’s funny, they have forced beers on me both flights. Hat tip to your negotiation abilities.
ANA has been really nice to me/us. All same good things as the ones mentioned for JAL and in fact good English (several flights last month). Some of them indeed feel like practicing it with you even if the interaction isn’t necessary.
The manifested capitalism wilderness by UA is really impossible to imagine in Japan. And my imagination is quite extensible.
I have chosen to use Singapore Airlines for flights to Japan from US west coast (LAX) after flying Delta, the drop box of the skies, United, never again, Air Canada, sometimes my last choice for low cost flights, but I would use Korean Air if it brought back direct flights, great service. Singapore Air, even in coach, is reasonably comfortable, adequate leg room, more real type food and attentive, friendly cabin crew. I did fly Delta in the fall of 2019, mostly with my air miles, and this drop box needed a real cleaning, maybe a deep steam cleaning. Any Asian airline is preferable to any American-based airline for flights to Japan.