National Traits on Flag Carriers

I was reminded on my most recent trip back East about how an airline can reflect the personality and traits of its home base.  I took two flights on this trip: a multi leg UA flight (SFO-NRT-SIN-NRT-SFO) and a round trip SQ flight to Hong Kong.

"United Airlines" - sort of
"United Airlines" - sort of (Photo credit: Chris Guillebeau)

UA is typically American, from the obese passengers with entitlement attitudes (I am in C, therefore I own the aisle and I will block it when I want, gate lice, queue jumping)  to the adequate to poor service to the typically union attitude of skirting the regulations.  For example, nametags.

Nametags are supposed to be worn as part of the uniform.  I have never seen so many creative ways that a name badge can be obscured or hidden.  I saw lapels conveniently covering nametags, one name tag that looked buffed out with a brillo pad, tags with first names only and several with none.  This is to prevent any sort of complaint that passengers may have about the flight attendants since the first step is to identify the culprit and how can you be identified if you don’t have an accurate name tag.  Unlike their counterparts on Singapore Airlines, where the stewards and stewardesses wear their uniforms and tags proudly, UA flight attendants feel the need to obscure their identity, lest they get called out for bad service.  But what’s the point, since they’re AFA anyway!  They won’t get fired.  And the ones that tend to get called out for good service, they’re the ones that wear their tags properly.  Usually they’re Narita based and non AFA.

Another example of the American “it’ll do” attitude is the condition of the airplane interiors.  Since the basics of aircraft maintenance are by gov’t regulation, UA has to follow rules to make sure their fleet stays airworthy and the generally do a good job at that.  However, there’s nothing that regulates the condition of the interior of the plane, where on my 744, trim pieces being held together by tape were the norm.  I have also been on planes where panels and doors were held in place with tape.  Maybe that should be part of every carry on bag, a roll of tape, in case the plane needs some emergency repairs.  And don’t get me started about the lavatories.  On the first return leg, I was seated in an exit row, next to the battery of 4 lavatories in the main cabin.  There were a lot of unsanitary types going in and out along with the various smells pushed into the cabin with the lavatory door being swung open and closed.  Not once were the lavatories wiped down during the 7 hour flight.  Yuck!  When asked about that, the flight attendant said in a bored voice, “that’s not MY job”.   I wonder if Jeff uses these lavatories when he flies? Maybe he can make an improvement here that we will all like.

Air hostesses for Singapore Airlines. January ...
Air hostesses for Singapore Airlines. January 19, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SQ, despite being criticized by some long time business fliers as “not as good as before” is still the standard in the skies.  Despite having issues with their website and the criticism of some of the quality of the new crews, SQ is still the preferred carrier for the region, according to an informal poll I took while in Singapore.  The experience onboard was efficient, well mannered, clean and pleasant.  And those were my fellow passengers.  Kinda like Singapore.

My flight was on an Airbus A330 regional jet that replaced the old Boeing 772s that SQ flew for years on these routes.  The planes are new and well maintained inside and out.  Actually every SQ plane I have been on has been almost Japanese in its upkeep and maintenance.  Unlike the UA 744s that have only a screen in the main cabin, every seat back on SQ has a version of Kris World, their AVOD system. And unlike  the flight attendants on UA who are either fat or old and cranky, SQ inflight service still remains pleasant and engaging.  The food reflects the destination so there was a choice of Cantonese dishes as part of the inflight meal.  Nice to have a choice besides “beef or chicken”.  And a beautiful smile from my stewardess when I woke up after my nap.  Yay.  It’s nice to get on a plane cynical and to depart smitten.  It means that the airline has done its job, not just getting you from A to B but leaving you with a good taste in your mouth.  Or was that the Krug?



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