Aug 082013

In my seven decades of going around the world, I have had more than my fair share of experiences in multiple airlines and airports.  Allow me to recount some which you may find interesting and helpful.

My first experience was in March 1945 when my family was airlifted together with the family of President Sergio Osmeña to the United States.  Manila was not yet completely liberated and there were Japanese snipers on the way to the airport. I remember taking off from  what is now Makati Avenue. The plane was a US Army Air Force C-47 (DC-3).  It was neither comfortable nor fast.  We must have landed in every Pacific island on the way to San Francisco.

Fast forward to the 1950s: I flew Philippine Airlines for summer vacation a couple of times.  There was no distinction between first or economy class. The service was excellent and the stewardesses were well trained, charming and very pretty. Today, PAL is different and it needs substantial improvement particularly because of its old fleet going to the United States.  I look forward to the future when the ban is lifted and the new planes ordered by Ramon Ang are utilized on this popular leg. However, I am constrained to draw attention to the uncompetitive pricing structure. My granddaughter had an economy ticket Toronto-Manila-San Francisco.  I decided to give her a treat and upgraded her to business class on the flight back to the US.  I was astounded that it would cost me $2,900 for the upgrade plus a $100 penalty for the change.  On the other hand, my friend Carl Ottiger informed me that he was going to San Francisco on Cathay Pacific and he paid $2,600 (business class, round trip).  I cite this in the spirit of constructive criticism.

Whether it is flights to Europe, Middle East, South America or the United States, I will now comment on the airlines I have experienced.

If you fly any airlines which is American owned, the quality will suffer in comparison to others. United Airlines service on business class is adequate but not memorable. Food is barely edible. United premium economy offers more comfortable seating but it is still three seats in a row. I suggest you ask for two aisle seats across each other so that no one is stuck in the middle. American Airlines is more or less the same. If economy, I suggest you buy the food before boarding.  Flying business class in the Continental US is so disappointing. You cannot even recline your seat to a more comfortable position.The concept of service to customers among the blue haired American stewardesses has a different interpretation compared to Asians.  I remember flying to Bermuda on American Airlines (first class). I ordered steak and asked that it be cooked medium.  The stewardess answered: “Sir I merely stick it in the oven and cannot be responsible for how it turns out.” I asked for a glass of water and she pointed to the water fountain.

I recently took Delta Airlines from Sao Paulo to JFK on business class. Beds were uncomfortable and the service was unique.  The male steward told me what he wanted. My personal desires were irrelevant. Don’t bother to order the food. I have also taken Jet Blue and Southwest Airlines. You get what you paid for-nothing less and nothing more. 

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European airlines differ greatly from their American counterparts. I would rate Lufthansa No. 1 in Europe. The stewardesses are efficient and courteous. If by chance you can speak French, do so with the stewardesses. They get so rattled that they give you even more attention. The toilets are spacious.  Flights are usually on time. Frankfurt Airport can be very confusing: they have signs pointing to other signs.  British Airways has seen better days since I was a BA frequent flyer in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I once wrote a complaint letter because I was refused boarding at Heathrow because my ticket had not been endorsed by the other airline (whose counter was closed at the time).  The chairman of BA sought me out and personally apologized for the incident. If you go to London, the new BA terminal is excellent compared to the other terminals. Do not fly KLM, they are inflexible and patronizing towards Asians. I had a very bad experience which forced me to take them to court. I eventually won. Cesar and Bambina Buenaventura can tell you more about their own KLM experience.  But Schiphol Airport is very impressive and passenger friendly. Air France is indeed very French.  Quality of food lives up to their reputation. Unfortunately, Charles de Gaulle airport is chaotic.

The Middle East airlines may not be well known: Emirates, Etihad and Qatar.  My wife has tried them all and she finds them comfortable, friendly and good value for money. I have flown Emirates to Athens via Dubai.  The flights from Manila seemed focused on quantity rather than quality.  Planes were old.  But from Dubai, quality is the name of the game.  They even have limousine service (gratis).  Dubai airport is a must… nothing quite like it.

Lastly, there are the Asian airlines. Cathay Pacific was once my favorite until they configured business class herringbone style. One couldn’t even read a broadsheet because the space was so confining.  They are now changing the configuration and I look forward to my next flight.  The service has always been good especially with the experienced Filipinas.  Their food could stand some improvement. Chek Lap Kok is a very efficient airport.

I have only taken Asiana once to Los Angeles.  The service and food was excellent.  One drawback: you leave late at night and then there is a long stopover in Incheon although the business class lounge provides comfortable sleeping facilities for a nap. The Incheon airport is passenger friendly and beautiful.

ANA is a great flight if you want to have a direct flight from Narita to the East Coast of the US.  The bad news is that you have to wait in Narita airport.  I have no complaints about the service or food.

My final airline is Singapore Airlines.  This is No. 1 in the world as far as I am concerned.  Their business class in the A-380 and 777-300 is as comfortable as first class in any other airline.  I have never tried their first class since there was no need nor could I afford it. The food is excellent and the staff is always at your beck and call. By the way, Changi airport is in a league of its own.

I hope my experiences as described above have been useful or at least amusing. By the way, I still love flying.  That is the only time I can escape from emails and phone calls.

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