Oh, British Airways, I didn’t mean to cheat on you, but other airlines tempted me with their lower fares that popped up on Orbitz. So I did it. I booked with Polskie Linie Lotnicze LOT, discounting all those fine flights we’ve had together these past few years: Russia, Croatia, and who could forget the 11 hour flights that shuttled me to and from my beloved home state and the wonderful city of London? This time, though, your tickets to Eastern Europe were so damn exorbitant that you reluctantly drove me into the arms of a certain Polish airline sporting a Star Alliance membership. Well, how bad could it be?
It sucked. Flying LOT is akin to being magically transported back in time to find yourself on an American airline from the 1980s. For ten hours.
Entertainment options were sparse. They showed one movie, The Astronaut Farmer, I think. None of those fancy personal seatback TVs that the Brits provide to all of their customers regardless of class. No free socks (about half of the socks I own are of the blue BA variety), earplugs, or eyeshades. I think my blanket was vintage 1970s Polish Army issue, or at least hadn’t been washed since then.
And the food? In general, I will eat anything that is presented to me, including airline food. Dry ham sandwich on Continental? OK, whatever. Bizarre chicken and rice concoction on Air France? Sure. LOT’s food, however, was downright terrible. One meal, in particular, included four pieces of bread, a salad composed of peas, corn, and cubes of ham slathered in an unidentifiable white sauce, and an entrée of spaghetti noodles topped with pieces of hamburger meat (I think) and cheese. I was a bit saddened that there was no dessert. Prosze, can’t I please just have one piece of chocolate on this 10 hour flight from hell? Nie!
The check-in process was yet another chance for LOT to show its true colors, Star Alliance be damned. As it turns out, my four hour layover at JFK was actually quite useful, as I was forced to spend an hour and a half standing in the LOT check-in line despite assurances from the Dulles United agent that all my boarding passes were valid to Kiev. Wrong. As I was waiting in the security line to enter terminal whatever at JFK, a nice LOT employee pulled me aside and told me that I had to go upstairs, check-in again, and receive new LOT-issued boarding passes because the United ones “wouldn’t work”, or something to that effect. I am not quite clear what the point of this so-called Alliance is.
Of course, returning to the U.S. wasn’t a cakewalk, either. Checking in for my Krakow to Chicago flight was an absolute clusterfuck that resulted in the flight leaving an hour late. The line to check-in stretched all the way to the back of the building. The LOT agents blamed their slowness on the amount of luggage they had to handle. While, yes, it’s true that the Poles were absolutely loaded down with trolleys full of luggage, it’s a bit weak to blame your effed up check-in procedures on your customers (four agents checking in a Boeing 767 headed to the U.S.? Seriously?) While I spent 2.5 hours in line, Laura checked in for her Krakow-London flight in 10 minutes, if even. British Airways, naturally.
I must say I’ve also come to appreciate the smooth landing skills displayed by many U.S. pilots. While U.S. pilots tend to glide in for a smooth, almost effortless landing, their Eastern European counterparts prefer the tried and true method of plummeting from the sky, landing hard, and ultimately finishing the maneuver by bouncing several times down a less than ideally maintained runway. And then comes the applause. First time visitors to Eastern Europe are always a bit amused by the local’s propensity to cheer and clap upon the completion of a successful landing. I’m not sure if this is an indication of the airline’s safety record, their joy in finally being home, or an appreciation of a job well done by the plane’s crew. I’ve always preferred to think of it as a mixture of all three. And sometimes, after experiencing one of those landings, I’m ready to join in the applause as well.