Sunday, March 9, 2008

Exotic airlines!

And now, your long awaited, much anticipated review of the crazy airlines I’ve been on in the last two and a half months in Asia and the South Pacific!

1. Thai Airways – no contest! Maybe if I can ever afford to fly Singapore Air, I’ll have a new number one, but so far, Thai has been the unquestionable best. The Airbus planes have been new, clean, and altogether nice. The stewardesses are generally attractive and happy to help, and the airline seems obsessive about trying to feed you – I got meals on both of my 1 hour flights between Bangkok and Phuket. And they’re even generally on time – of the three flights I’ve had so far, two departed on time, and the 3rd was delayed a mere 30 minutes.
2. China Airways – it’s actually a pretty big step down to number 2 here… The best thing here is that I think they hold a beauty pageant as part of the tryouts for the flight attendants (and the trans-Pacific flights only get the winners). On the downside, the food is a little bland, albeit plentiful, and the flight attendants are helpful, but not overly so. In general, the airline’s good at most everything, but not great at most things. The economy seats are also rather cramped for people over 5 feet tall…
3. Pacific Air – Fiji’s flag carrier gets you from LA to Fiji in relative comfort (and on time). On the downside, the food was patently bland, and the flight attendants seem much more interested in getting to the Fiji beaches themselves than in helping me (I’m still waiting on my water… maybe I’ll get it on the flight to New Zealand that I’m also taking on Air Pacific!)

My brightly colored Air Pacific Boeing 747 lands in Fiji at 5 in the morning

4. Sri Lankan Airways – yes, the mighty state of Sri Lanka has its own flag carrier, and I’ve even flown on it! Unfortunately, it seems catered rather exclusively to the Indian market, and I, not being Indian, didn’t particularly appreciate the bland Indian food in-flight meals, or the rather full-bodied flight attendants wearing traditional saris… There’s also a frequent flyer program, which is very distantly related to Delta, but I haven’t tried claiming my miles yet, and, I suspect, that if/when I do try I will be unable to – this alone brings the rating down in my book!
5. One-Two-Go – Thailand’s discount domestic airline almost committed the cardinal sin of making me late to my frisbee game in Chiang Mai, but some quick tuk-tuk driving remedied the problem. All in all, it’s a discount airline, and you get about what you’d expect – a full airplane, without a whole lot of leg room, a bag of peanuts for your in-flight meal, and a 60 minute delay… But, at least, I hear making changes is free and easy if you ever need to. On the downside, I later found out that one of their planes crashed (pilot error) about a year ago… but there were some survivors!
6. Jet Airways – India’s discount carrier was actually pretty good, but will forever get dragged down in my mind for being associated with the general lack of timeliness in India and by being near Air Deccan in my brain (more on them in a bit). But, the Jet flight did actually depart on time (landed late though as we had to wait for the fog to clear over Kathmandu) and was rather comfortable, especially since I had an entire row of seats to myself!

Special category #1: regional propeller planes…
- Gorkha airlines in Nepal got me from Kathmandu to Janakpur in a rather beat-up looking airplane, but we got there!

Gorkha Air - fly at your own risk!

- Yeti airways, also in Nepal, got me to Lukla from Kathmandu and back. I'm pretty sure the seats were actually lawn chairs in a former life, but the airplane itself seemed more air-worthy than the Gorkha version. The absolutely unbeatable scenery out the window makes up for the fact that they can only fly in clear skies, so the flight back from Lukla ended up delayed a day.

A Yeti airways plane taking off on the amazing 'off-the-cliff' runway in Lukla, Nepal

- Fiji Air – how can you not love a flight that lasts exactly 10 minutes and hops you between two islands in Fiji! Plus, the cockpit door was open (as has been the case with all of these prop planes), and instrument cluster they had seemed a lot more state of the art than anything the Nepalese were using!

The airstrip in Ovulau is quite literally in the middle of the jungle

Special category #2: don’t even bother!
- India’s other regional discount carrier, Air Deccan, was supposed to take me from Putna to Dehli… Instead, the flight was cancelled (an hour after the scheduled departure time, without any announcements at all prior), they refused to refund my money (I can only get the money back from the travel agent, whom I’m never going to see again…), and wouldn’t even help me get to the train station for the 13 hour train to Dehli. Admittedly, they weren’t significantly worse than any North American airline when they cancel a flight due to weather these days, but they just managed to piss me off! Instead of getting my money back, I now have an open ticket on Air Deccan, not sure how I’m going to use it…

An airport in Janakpur, Nepal: on the left is the main terminal, while the shack on the right is the "arrival/departure lounge"

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