Flying Back to the United States

Last Thursday I made a last-minute trip back to the United States to renew my Thai visa. Searching online, I was able to find a combination of dates and routes that were reasonably affordable.

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The trip was booked on United Airlines through Tokyo. While I consider most Asian airlines to be a better experience than US-based airlines, I have to say that United’s revamped economy class product was acceptable, better than it used to be. Sadly, their Boeing 747s have not had the revamp. The Boeing 777 fleet, though, has audio-video on-demand and power outlets at every set of seats. The flight attendants are still kind of surly, though.

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In Tokyo, I was joined by a group of thirty or so Korean primary school children on their way to a Tae Kwan Do competition in San Francisco. One of the group, 11-year old Jun, was seated between me on the aisle and another guy in the window seat. It made for an interesting flight. He was more outgoing than I would expect, talking with both of us throughout the flight and asking lots of questions. Even when I put on my eye shades and tried to sleep.

My fellow traveler and I looked out for Jun, getting snacks for him from the galley and sharing some snacks we had brought on board. An interesting thing that I assume is a cultural trait, when I offered him some granola bars that I had just opened, he declined to break off a section for himself. Instead, I figured out that he was waiting for me to break off a piece and offer it to him. He then broke a piece from that one and offered it to the guy sitting in the window seat.

After about seven hours of flying, awake the whole time, Jun’s energy ran out and he crashed hard asleep. Contorted in his seat in a strange position, I managed to wake him up for the second meal service since he had complained of being hungry. He was so bleary he could scarcely decide what entree to eat. He fell back asleep and didn’t wake up until we pulled into the gate and I shook his shoulder. Poor kid – hope he didn’t have to complete the following day!

I will be in the United States for ten days. Have already gathered some good food pictures and will share them in the next few days.

Nasty Flight Attendant

Here in New York, arriving Monday after a annoyingly long delay at Chicago O’Hare, explained by the ill-defined reason, “air traffic control.”  There were rain showers in New York and JFK Airport’s longest runway is closed for a four-month reconstruction, so this may have caused the delay – even though we were flying into LaGuardia.

The worst of it, though, was the terrible attitude of our United flight attendants.  This was their final flight to their home base so I imagine they were as eager as the rest of us to get on the flight and depart, but never have I been talked to in so martial a tone as on this flight.  They were barking at passengers about bag storage, boarding procedures, etc. 

Tawn put his larger bag in the overhead bin and folded his trench coat to place it next to the bag.  “On top of the bag, sir!  Put your coat on top of your bag!” shouted a flight attendant from several rows away, ignoring the fact that Tawn’s bag filled the bin to its ceiling.  Finally, he just put the coat in his lap rather than receive any more verbal abuse.

Eventually the overhead bins filled and bags needed to be gate checked.  Nothing unusual about this and, I would imagine, an unsurprising consequence of the airline’s policy to charge for checked baggage.  But what shocked me was the announcement another flight attendant made:

Ladies and gentlemen, we apologize for the need to gate check bags.  Despite out repeated announcements, other passengers did not store their bags in the overhead bins properly so there was not room to accommodate your bags…

I cannot believe he said that.  Is there any question as to why United no longer gets my paying business?  In all my years of flying I have never heard a flight attendant use an announcement to blame passengers.

Anyhow, we’re in New York.  It was rainy last night but we had a tasty dinner at Mama’s Food Shop.  I have some pictures of this place in the East Village but they are still on the camera.  You’ll have to wait for ’em.

Cheers!