Monday, April 9, 2012

From Khartoum to China – The Accidental Business Traveler: Part III

Before take off the flight attendant came and asked what we’d like to drink. I asked what was available, and she said, “Everything. Whatever you want to drink.” Maybe, in a less fragile condition, I would have put her claim to the test but I just asked for apple juice and let it slide.

On every flight, there is the snooty flight attendant, the friendly one and the flustered one. Juice girl was the snooty type. I feel a certain resentment coming from snooty service staff. The barely concealed sneer was actually a pout, “It should have been me”.

I noticed that the flight attendants enjoyed the same meals as the Business Class Passengers, so the resentment is as meaningless as it is misguided. She was doing her job while I was seated. No doubt while I was doing my job, she too would be kicking back somewhere exotic and I didn’t begrudge her the pleasure.

I like friendly and flustered attendants. We can all relate to that and appreciate (again) a positive attitude in a thankless job. Except for the part where they spend a lot of time on their feet (as many of us do), I think they have it pretty easy. They are trained in basic procedures and need to draw upon them, as circumstances require. How hard can it be? And, aren’t service staff supposed to have a friendly disposition, by definition? I can’t see a bully dreaming of growing up to serve meals to people in the sky.

The plane was shabby, there was no in-flight entertainment, nor was there an option to raise your feet. Just the basic option of putting your seat back, which even passengers in coach got. Business Class my rear.

The in-flight magazine was also raggedy. I was told, as a very young child, that you can take your in-flight magazine with you. It’s all paid for. Since getting that authorization, I pick up the magazine for casual post-travel reading. I know that most people don’t but why should I be stuck with the well thumbed copy of February travelers, past and present? They need to do something about that. Appoint someone to distribute magazines by ticket price. Business Class get fresh off the presses and kids paying half price get stuck with the shabby ones, that they can eviscerate without embarrassing their parents.

We had gotten the piping hot towels at one point. Who came up with that idea? Why did all the airlines take it up? It’s nice and sanitary and everything, but I would think that if airlines were looking to improve, they would add the numbers of bathrooms on a plane, instead of just making up stuff that has almost zero impact on the quality of the trip. More bathrooms, now, that would get people excited.

Then the food started. Silverware and china. There were some attempts at presentation, like they hired someone to go spy on Qatar Airways, and he came back and said, “They don’t just put the food there, they draw leaves with the ketchup and stuff” so Egypt Air Chef-in-Chief was summoned and told, “Don’t just pile on the food and embarrass us. You need to draw stuff. Put an umbrella, that looks fancy. And kiwi. All exotic like”. I think the only thing that didn’t have kiwi on it was the meat.

So, they give you something to eat, and while you’re still jabbing at your fruit salad, they bring a “hot meal” which is piping hot and cools down to gelatin. Just when you have your tray organized and start a meat/juice/salad rhythm, they ask if you want tea or coffee.

Okay, the food seemed old anyway, let’s just have our evening tea, the Sudanese way, and enough with this hassle. (Food on planes always seems old. Not just stale, but like it's been through stuff. Has stories to tell.)

With the tea, in Business Class, you are offered your choice of bread! White, brown, pumpernickel, pita. Seriously. People pay more for this?

This reminded me of a flight from Nairobi to Khartoum.
An American lady sat beside me. She quickly told me that she worked for the US government and had been on assignment to monitor the elections in Nairobi. I asked her who she was going to vote for in the US. She was taken aback. I thought that this was due to the American taboo of asking who you were going to vote for, but she explained that she hadn’t thought that people in Africa were following the US elections. I already voted, she confided, because I am traveling, I can vote ahead. I voted for Gore.

Really? I asked incredulous. She asked why I didn’t approve. He seems plastic, I replied. I know that doesn’t really make sense, but he doesn’t seem like a robot (Romney) just made of plastic or something. I would have voted for Bush, I said. He seems harmless. (LOL. We all know how that turned out).

Anyway, the traveling American was complaining about everything. Everything. When I ordered something from the Duty Free and the attendant told me they didn’t have change, she rolled her eyes dramatically. I was the one buying and foregoing the theatrics, what was her problem? When they started passing out the meals, she asked where hers was. She turned to me to explain that she had ordered a “special meal”. Of course you did, I said. Why do you say that? She asked. Because you’re American, and apparently what is good enough for everyone else is not good enough for you. She actually did not take offense. She kind of liked it. When she got her meal and saw my meal (chicken, Sudanese always order the chicken on a flight. Ask flight attendants. Drives them nuts because they always run out. They should have factored it in by now). So she looks at my meal and said it looked better than her boiled vegetables. Sometimes, it really is better to go with the flow.

Sorry, Americans, but sometimes, you guys are too much.

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