Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Gute Arbeit Lufthansa

I used to love flying but as documented by previous blog entries, the whole experience tends to be a nightmare.  I'm not all negative about all airlines however and my last few flights on Lufthansa have renewed my faith in the fact that flying can be done right.  Maybe it is the inherent efficiency of this German airline; maybe it is the people who work for the company; or perhaps it is the customers who chose the airline. Whatever the reason, I find the flights on this airline to be far more pleasant than any other recent flights.

Despite its European location, flying in and out of Tirana is not always an easy proposition.  With the exception of irregularly scheduled flights on local low-cost airlines, those of us trying to leave the country have few options.  I am eternally grateful that United Airlines does not fly into Tirana.  Even more fortunately, the ill fated Albanian Airlines has gone out of business, saving  all of the flying public from its questionable transportation practices.  Just about every travel destination requires a connection in one of three cities.  Connections through Rome, Italy are on Alitalia, an airline we had the unfortunate experience to fly on during our initial flight to Albania.  Heading north, Vienna, Austria is another option with a nice airport and customer friendly airline but the 0425 flight on Austrian Airlines leaves a lot to be desired.  Lufthansa flights, with connections in Munich, Germany, are by far the most convenient and pleasant means of traveling outside of Albania.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for. Lufthansa isn't cheap; in fact it is often the most expensive air travel option but in my opinion, it is worth the cost.  Lufthansa, along with a few other major European airlines, still believes in customer service.  Whereas American flagged carriers nickel and dime you for every "amenity", Lufthansa provides these services for free.  You can check a bag, bring aboard a reasonably sized carry-on (I love the fact they actually measure and enforce the size restrictions), and request a blanket and pillow without having to whip out your credit card.  Snacks and beverages are free with good quality wine and beer being a part of the complementary menu.  And yes, these are the amenities provided in the economy class cabin.  On our most recent flight we were greeted at the airplane door with a full sized Toberlone bar.  I mean, how can one not love an airline that provides you with free Swiss chocolate as you board the plane?

Unlike most airlines, Lufthansa seems to genuinely take the needs of children into consideration.  As a parent, it doesn't bother me when other children cry on flights but I find my own child's tantrums intolerable mid-air.  We do our best to keep Sidney amused; our carry-on always holds a variety of favorite snacks, old stand-by toys, and a special surprise to keep Sidney distracted and prevent any spontaneous mid-flight outbursts.  Lufthansa takes that extra much appreciated step by providing free children's entertainment packs for every child.  These gifts aren't fancy; sometimes they are small picture books, a small stuffed toy or other type of game.   Most importantly, each gift includes a small package of gummy bears.  Now I'm not a fan of giving sugary treats to children, but any parent who has flown with a small child understands the importance of swallowing, chewing, or sucking to relieve ear pressure during take offs and landings.  Lufthansa apparently understands this importance too.

Maybe it has been sheer luck, but I have yet to fly on a Lufthansa flight that has been delayed.  (The last time I flew on a United flight the captain actually apologized for the fact that the cabin doors would be closed ON TIME since he was trying to depart ahead of an impending storm.  Really?  Shouldn't we expect on time departures?).  Instead of the multi-zoned, special class pre-boarding process that dominates American flights and seems to do little in terms of improving efficiency, Lufthansa boards their flights by simply announcing that boarding has begun and taking it from there.  On all my flights people have managed to board the planes so efficiently that doors have been closed and the plane ready to push back prior to the scheduled departure times.  (The only snag I have ever witnessed was an outbound flight where an elderly woman had decided to sit in a business class seat that had been assigned to someone else and didn't understand why the flight attendant was insisting that she move to her seat in the back of the plane).

Flying his very own Lufthansa jet
There are some things that airlines just can't control.  They can control neither mother nature nor natural disasters and for the most part they can't control mechanical problems with aircraft.  Unfortunately airlines can't force their passengers to bathe before boarding or educate them against the wisdom of dousing themselves with pungent cologne prior to takeoff.  As I have witnessed on all of my flights flying into Tirana, airlines can ensure people actually stay in their seats until the plane comes to a full stop, cell phones are turned off for the entire flight, and disembarking is as orderly as possible.

See, flying doesn't always have to be a bad experience.  Instead, as travelers we must chose our options wisely.  Instead of the dread I used to feel about an impending flight, my travels with connections in Germany are almost something to look forward to.  Where else can I check a bag for free, get good quality chocolate, and a glass of wine while traveling to another great European destination?

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