Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Airline Service? Go Global, Baby

Airline service. When’s the last time you saw those two words side by side? My flight on Turkish Airlines to Istanbul on Tuesday was a damn dream. Ironic, since a page 1 article in USA Today that I read hours before boarding, pointed to the fact that many Americans have given up on airline travel, because it has simply become… miserable.

From the moment I boarded the roomy Boeing 777 for Istanbul, there was a festive scent in the air. The bountiful team of flight attendants smiled. They were more than helpful, as passengers packed onto the plane’s nine-seats-across rows. More impressive, the staff was collectively crisp: well-groomed, fit and dressed professionally, with the men in vests and suit coats, and the women in smart pant-suits or skirts.

That was just the beginning. The first time the beverage cart came through, there were sodas, juices, wine, cocktails, water… all paid for in the fare. Then came dinner, served with metal utensils. Ready for this? Marinated shrimp with eggplant salad, a seasonal green salad, fresh, warm dinner roll, and for the entrée, a choice of grilled chicken breast with vegetables and rice, or cannelloni with ricotta and spinach. Coffee and more beverages followed.

Each seat offered an individual screen with dozens of movies, customizable music playlists, TV, news or the constantly evolving flight pattern. All free, along with headphones. Did I mention the pillows and blankets?

My seatmate complained to a flight attendant that she had a headache. She was given water and aspirin. Can you imagine? The airline figured that if a passenger was too stupid to know that he or she is allergic to a pain-reliever, the lawsuit is futile. That would never be allowed in the States. Too risky. Just like that metal flatware. Amazingly, nobody used it as a weapon.

At some point in the night, a cheese tart was delivered, along with beverage service. And then, as the sun peaked on the horizon, breakfast was served: strawberry yogurt, a selection of cheeses and olives, scrambled eggs with spinach and potatoes. More bread. Coffee, water, juices, sodas.

By the time we landed in Istanbul some nine hours in, I didn’t want to leave the plane. This felt like some 1970’s fantasy, where flying (coach, mind you) was part of the vacation adventure—before U.S. unions made airline travel in the States… well, miserable.

But wait, there’s more! My second flight, a shuttle from Istanbul to Ankara on Turkish Airlines was all of 45 minutes in the air. Hmm, wonder if I can get a soda… The next thing I know, here comes a turkey sandwich and side salad, with a brownie. USAir, Delta, United, American, Continental… you can all bite me!