One of the ways I rack up miles is by maintaining loyalty to one or two airlines. Over the years, factors of price, location, and itinerary resulted in United becoming my first choice for almost all of my flights.
DISCLAIMER: I have an absolutely darling friend who works for United. She has one of the most indomitable, smiling spirits of anyone I've ever known. She'd bend over backwards to help anyone and, from stories I hear, I know she manifests this demeanor at work in spite of many irascible, irritating, and unreasonable customers. She is a stellar employee, so allow me to say that NOTHING IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH PERTAINS TO HER, and I hope she isn't reading this now because I'm going to bitch.
I might not be so put out by United if it weren't the airline that purports to have "Friendly Skies". I know they've had a TON of issues since the Continental merger but, may I humbly request, "Don't take it out on me!" Evidently, the discontent is directly affecting the employees on all levels from dress to demeanor because, over the past few years, I've seen several slightly unkempt and surly attendants. Don't think we don't notice hair that looks like you just got out of bed in Denmark (maybe you did - comb it!), smudged make-up (mile-high club?), or wrinkled clothing (they sell travel irons, guys). I've seen it all. And if commenting on less-than-perfect appearance is nit-picky, let's get to the real raison d'etre for you being there - service. Sarcasm and grouchiness do not translate as "friendly". I was once refused a blanket because I was snippily informed "They're only for first class." I get it. I'm not one of the Kardashians. But you don't have to look down your nose at me when you remind me that I'm sitting in the cheap seats. I've had minor requests like a broken headset ignored and forgotten by a "busy" attendant only to find her chatting it up in the galley on a trip to the restroom. In general, nearly every time I've flown, I've gotten the impression that I'm annoying these people merely by breathing.
And, personnel issues aside, my flights have gotten less and less comfortable over the years. I'm 4'11" and when MY knees are almost up against the seat in front of me, it makes me feel slightly envious of the Yorkie being carried in a crate two rows up.
But discomfort has gone viral. I don't know if this has caught on with international carriers but domestic airlines are doing something called "upgauging". They're increasing their sales by throwing more seats into their planes even if it means that coach passengers are getting squeezed.
I feel disrespected.
But, seriously, I am only mentioning these things to compare and contrast with my experience on my flight to Malta this past August.
Because I'm not one to pass up a great deal, I flew on Lufthansa airlines to Malta. It's a United partner so I still accrued miles, albeit at a reduced rate.
It was worth it.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting to enjoy the flight. Unable to choose a seat beforehand, I was assigned a K seat when I got to the airport. The plane was an Airbus 340-600 with a 2-4-2 configuration, and that meant I was next to a window. Not my preferred spot. Furthermore, a quick check on SeatGuru.com informed me: "In economy class, A, D, G, and K all have limited underseat leg and storage room due to the presence of the entertainment equipment box."
Sigh. Eight hours of cramps, coming up.
But I was in for a pleasant surprise.
Have you ever paid for "Economy Plus" to get more leg room? Well, my seat had that. For free. I could not believe how roomy my seat was. And while that entertainment equipment box did make it a little more difficult to store my (admittedly overstuffed) tote under the seat, there was still plenty of room for my (admittedly Hobbitt-sized) legs to stretch out. Even my much taller neighbor commented that she was not grazing the back of the seat in front of her. I was pleased to think the trip was starting off on the right foot, or knee as it were.
And it just kept getting better. Impeccably groomed (and flawlessly made up) Stepford Wives (and husbands) in crisp uniforms who actually seemed to care about my comfort were there to serve. My neighbor's headset didn't work. Twice. The flight attendant replaced it quickly and cheerfully. Twice. After my neighbor finished her tea she asked if drink service was over because she wanted another. The attendant smiled and replied, "Yes, it's over, but I can get you another tea. Cream or lemon?" The woman turned to me and said, "If this was American Airlines they'd tell me to drink water or choke."
And then there was the food.
Now airline food will never be The French Laundry in Napa Valley, but my meal was definitely above average. Especially considering that I got a mild case of food poisoning on my last domestic airline flight.
But what really impressed me was the lovely lady who came down the aisles with a plate of HOT TOWELS, one of which was handed to me with a flourish of tongs so that I might wash my hands before my meal. IN COACH!
Lufthansa, you had me at hot towels.