Every time I fly a non-US based airline, I am reminded of how little bang we Americans get for our buck. To be fair, I remember when flying was an exciting and privileged experience. And to hear my grandmother tell it, we are all getting the shaft because airlines no longer serve full, hot meals (served with real silverware of course). Now, I understand that the airline industry has had some ups and downs. But for some reason, the “downs” seem to linger much longer and are now the normal experience on US based airlines.
Usually, my nostalgia about the good ole days of air travel is just a fleeting thought. However, it nearly turned to outrage after a recent experience traveling in South America.
I booked a round-trip ticket, international trip on LAN airlines. This flight was less than two hours and included a sandwich, my choice of beverage (including wine–and yes I took a glass although it was only 10:30 in the morning).
My connecting flight on LAN was no more than an hour and a half, and even that flight included a small sandwich, fruit, crackers, and a drink. Oh and how can I forget to mention that since these were international flights (albeit short), there was also in air entertainment (movies, music etc) at no extra charge.
Initially I thought, well maybe this is a fluke…? There is no way that all of these flights can have the same perks. SURELY, my return flight will be different. Although I usually hate being wrong, I am pleased to say that I was wrong. Upon boarding my non-stop international flight (almost 5 hours in duration), the airline not only had food, in flight entertainment, and drinks, it also had multiple copies of the local morning paper available (for free).
This is not the first time I have flown non-US based airlines, but this is the first time that I have truly been annoyed.
So maybe you are reading this and thinking “well LAN is one of the biggest/most prominent airlines in South America. You probably would not have the same experience on a local/smaller airline.” Wrong. During this same trip in South America, I also flew Peruvian Airlines for a short, one hour, one way flight from Cusco to Lima. I found my seat last minute at a steal of a price…$89 USD one way. Surely, this short flight would not have food service..! Oh but it did. Again, a small sandwich and beverage service. For a one hour flight.
I admit that I do like movies, food, newspapers, and free wine. However, those tangible perks were just the icing on the cake.
Overall, the boarding process on both LAN and Peruvian Airlines was much more efficient. On both LAN and Peruvian, those who needed more times were allowed to board first (those with children, elderly, disabled) as well as first class. But instead of the weird “zone” system, those seated at the rear of the plane were instructed to board first. Now granted I was hype because I was seated in those rows, so the boarding process definitely worked in my favor. But honestly, my personal benefit aside, the boarding process just makes sense. There are few things more annoying than patiently waiting for the slow person in front of you to dig/pack/mosey on to his or her seat in row 3 while the line to get past them extends into the terminal. Since those in the rear board first, the process of getting on the plane is actually much quicker.
Oh and did I mention that the checked bag fee does not exist for South American airlines? You may check a bag of up to 25 kg on both LAN and Peruvian Airlines (that equates to about 50 pounds.)
So before you call me anti-American–let me give you the downsides of my international airline experience. First, the majority of my meals/snacks on the international airlines consisted of some variation of a ham and cheese sandwiches. I think I have had more than my fair share of these tasty sandwiches, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
And another drawback–the check-in process was way lengthier and much more chaotic than I think most Americans would stand for. You can check in online. But you must then check your bag at the airport. It took 45 minutes to drop off my checked bag. As a matter of fact, the line was so long for the people only checking bags, that I think it may have been slightly quicker for me to wait and check-in at the airport.
Overall, there are things that I do enjoy and indeed prefer flying on US based carriers. Efficiency tops that list. But I refuse to believe that efficiency requires US based airline companies to profit on every. single. aspect. of airline travel. I refuse to believe that the profit margins for these companies are so tight that all they can afford to give us on a flight over 2 hours is peanuts and a quarter of a can of soda. US based domestic carriers can and should do better.