Friday, April 18, 2008

Flying China Airlines, Northwest, and "Economy Heaven"

Amadeo, one of my longtime blog buddies, posted recently on his airline flight to the Philippines from his home base in the San Francisco area. His observations inspired me to write some comments here about my own recent “round tripper” to Phoenix.

It always astounds me how MOST things go so smoothly (and comparatively quickly) on these modern long distance sky treks. I tend to look at these things from the perspective of history; like, instead of pondering miserably on how LONG a 14 hour flight to LA is, I’ll think back to how it was for a guy like Andrew Jackson, our 7th president, who wrote of taking weeks to make the trip between Washington D.C. and his home near Nashville, a beautiful spot in Central Tennessee called The Hermitage. That was back in the 1820s and 30s when there were not as yet even railroads, or ANY roads at all for that matter, at least none that were readily passable for more than a few miles at a stretch. Most of the traveling back then was done by boat, using whatever rivers happened to be going in the general direction of one’s eventual destination.

Now, here in 2008, from the time I leave my home in Angeles City by car for the two hour ride to the Manila Airport, to the time I arrive at my parents’ house in Saginaw, it takes not more than 24 hours. Half way around the world in a day, and yet it’s not even something we marvel at anymore! I KNOW if I could go back in time and have a word with Ol Hickory, and tell him that such “fast” far-flung travel would one day be routine, he’d scoff and call me crazy. And I wouldn’t blame him one bit.

I flew China Airlines for the first time since I arrived on that carrier in 2002. I mostly like their style. They are very efficient and pleasant. The stewardesses are all mostly easy on the eyes, and I love the tight dresses they wear. It is interesting how “inscrutable” they are while providing service however. Unlike the wide-eyed friendliness exhibited by Filipina attendants on Northwest that serve on the Manila / Japan leg, the China Airlines girls have universally fake smiles planted on their faces and they NEVER look you in the eye. I find it eerie that a bevy of them could provide 14 hours of service and not once did I observe even a fleeting moment of eye contact. It must be something they practice; how else to explain it?

All four China Air jetliners that I flew on had touch screen players on the seat backs to my front. Having them was WONDERFUL! The seats in economy are just as small as the seats in Northwest’s economy sections, but what a difference having a touch screen makes! I know I’m raving, but it’s true. I LOVED being able to watch any of about 20 recently released movies, and I watched nearly every one by the time I made it back to Manila last Saturday. If I wanted to take a break, I could touch pause, or if I wanted to rewatch a particularly interesting scene, I just reversed back to the beginning of THAT scene.

Contrast that to my miserable roundtrips on Northwest last September and October. Those Northwest 747s still had the TV screens mounted forward for multiple passenger viewing. That meant I had to continually crane my neck to see around someone’s head, and if I needed to take a break to say, visit the little girl’s room, I missed that part of the movie. So, I’d more likely just sit there determined to see the whole movie uninterrupted and suffer through it to do so. Come ON Northwest, get with the program people! Although, a guy told me today that on his last NW flight last February that one of his jets DID have the personal viewing screens, so it seems they are getting there, slowly.

Something unusual happened on the return flight from LA to Taipei. Believe it or not, the plane was only about 75% full. I know I couldn’t believe it. I sat there in my window seat, 18J I think it was, and kept waiting for someone to squeeze in next to me. As the time drew near for “push back” I watched the parade of boarders approach me up the aisle. I saw two dudes coming and thought, ‘Please, NOT guys.” Then they stopped in and sat in some seats to the front. A tiny little old Taiwanese woman slowly came toward me, ‘Yeah. Her! Her!’ but she just kept going right on past me. At last, the doors were closed and I immediately jumped to the very center seat in MY row of three empties. I pushed both armrests up, spread my arms out directly from my sides, and relished the feeling of sheer unencumbered physical freedom as I stretched my legs out as far as they would reach under seats 17H and J to my left and right. ‘Yes! Now THIS is the next best thing to first class!’

I looked around and saw that several others of my fellow passengers were similarly exalting in being able to stretch out in each of their own banks of two or three open seats that had suddenly became “economy class heaven.” None of us could believe our luck. Sometimes, things DO go right. For the entire 14 hours I didn’t care once that the pretty flight attendants would not make eye contact with me. Who cares? I was sleeping in a horizontal fashion and it was GOOD! I’ve been making flights back and forth across the Pacific to the Philippines for ten years now, and that was the FIRST time I’ve been on a plane that empty. I’ll probably have to wait ten more for it to happen again.


Anonymous said...


Flint to Orlando. Upgrade at the gate to "business class". Best 60 bucks I ever spent.

Kevin said...

That was me. Didn't take my name.

PhilippinesPhil said...

I wish I could pay similarly to upgrade on one of those torturous 14 hour cross Pacific flights. My back is still killing me...

Amadeo said...

Look what you did. You made me relive my own harrowing 14 hours in flight. Because I was on an aisle seat and the guy next to me was a big guy from some rural town in No. California and the window seat was taken by his petite and kindly Filipina wife. Visiting the folks in Batangas he tells me after some introduction. But I muttered under my breath, why didn't he take the window seat because his right elbow was constantly intruding into my ribs.

And much like your flight, the middle seats beside me, all lovely lonely four of them, were empty. What a heavenly opportunity, I told myself.

But before I could flex a muscle, the attendant had already quickly sequestered a small boy who was asleep to occupy the entire huge space. What tough luck and such a waste of space!

So endure the 14 hours in stiff discomfort I had to do. Of course, the succeeding challenges that awaited me were thankfully spared from me at that time.

Till next trip then.

Ed said...

I flew to the Philippines once on Northwest and never again. I'm going United or now China airlines because they have the personal entertainment centers and like you, they make a ton of difference.

I've never been on an overseas flight with one seat to spare. I'm envious.

Anonymous said...

What'd I tell you about the eye contact, huh?

PhilippinesPhil said...

The eyes are the windows to the soul Hope. I was just looking for some soul!

Anonymous said...

This I am quite sure of...I wouldn't think though you are looking at the right eyes there though,Phil.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Seriously, how weird is it to be around someone(s) for more than half a day, to have continuous contact with them, and NOT ONCE is there eye contact, not even fleeting? Its not normal. Its disquieting if you pay attention. Perhaps I was the only one that was.

Amadeo said...


Here is a marked distinction regarding direct eye contact in different cultures.

In the US, to show attentiveness or that one is listening, one should have direct eye contact with the other person.

But in other cultures (Asians, West Indians, and even African American, and Native Americans) not yet acculturated to Western ways, direct eye contact may be considered rude, or disrespectful, or intimidating, or may even indicate sexual overtones.

Thus, your experience with China Airlines may be attributed to this cultural difference. We may just need to allow them to get used to Western ways.

If you had lived in the Philippines, some generations earlier you would have been exposed to such “behavior”, too.

PhilippinesPhil said...

Of course its cultural. Interesting that you propose that Filipinos have incorporated the use of eye contact because of their exposure to Western peoples. Does that include the Spanish? They were here for several centuries before our relatively short stint here starting just over a century ago. I often wonder how so few Fil academics or anyone over here for that matter refer much to Spanish influence, almost as if their history didn't start until we showed up. Thats a generalization; i know you do occasionally.

Anonymous said...

I had the same good luck of having an empty seat between me and my wife on an Alitalia flight from Rome to JFK, the second leg of 3 flights from Cairo to San Diego. After an exhausting guided tour of Israel and Egypt, it was heavenly like in comfort...until we boarded the Delta flight from JFK. They'll starve you to death and the plane seat was so tight and uncomfortable.

Amadeo said...

Phil, you have to understand that in the case of the Spaniards who undoubtedly stayed a lot longer, their strong insistence in the superiority of their race and culture over that of the lowly Indios may have aggravated instead whatever subservient practices or traditional reticence in the native culture. The ensuing, though maybe latent in many instances, master-servant relationship may have instead validated passive qualities in their culture, like avoiding eye contact. And remember too that the Spaniards were quite forceful about the natives not getting to know enough or be conversant with its culture, thus education of the natives was quite limited.

Present-day Filipinos identify more with the short-staying US rather than Mother Spain, because with the former they were given the opportunities to learn about this Western culture and were typically reckoned as equals.

There are a lot of Spanish influences in the local culture simply because of the sheer number of years that they colonized the islands, but I say not in this particular respect. I witnessed this marked difference in my own parents. My mother quite steeped in the Spanish traditions because of her background, against my father who was educated by the Jesuits.