Jul 12 2007

LOT – The airline of the proletariat

by in Central & Southern Europe, Eastern Europe & the Caucasus, Poland, Ukraine

LOT_polish_airlines.jpeg

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.

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10 Responses to LOT – The airline of the proletariat

  1. From Laura:

    Ah it was about 8 minutes to be exact. God bless the Silver executive club BA card and my lovely Georgetown “business” trips to Doha. But you do have about 400 dollars more in the bank than I do now… sigh. Stupid plane fares.

    Posted on July 13, 2007 at 10:35 pm #
  2. From Maciek:

    Lindsay,
    Has it ever crossed your mind that the fault does not lie completely on the airline but the F-UP US government that forces all airlines that fly into the US to put passengers through hell. Have you ever heard of US Government’s program called APIS..it’s that program that makes EVERY carrier flying into the US screen passengers completely. Not too long ago the check in process was taking less than 30 minutes. Then the damn APIS and other crappy screening (no liquids or gels etc) kicked in. Each passenger’s data must be entered correctly in the check in system so it can be transmitted upon take off to US Immigration’s system. I’m not saying that airline is at no fault but then again if you bitch so much about LOT and the general attitude of Polish people then perhaps you should look at the “warmth” you get in the UK…You get stick up your bum along with “I’m terribly darling but there’s nothing I can do”. Or the FAKE smiles you get in the US. To conclude my post LOT is not the worst airline in the world but at the same time You made the choice to look for the cheapest flight. As far as the applause goes – well it’s part of the custom just like american custom is “loud mouth”. Also I find your lack of knowledge about airline safety record quite annoying. LOT has higher “self set” standards which are in addition to the government regulated ones and as for the pilots..well…check your facts. LOT has the best pilots who year after year win world cups in airplane handling and acrobatics.

    Posted on July 14, 2007 at 5:56 pm #
  3. From Lindsay:

    Yeah, yeah, yeah…the US government and its policies suck, what else is new? Can’t say I ever had that check-in problem at Heathrow, though.
    Checking facts takes too much time. I’d rather rely on decades old stereotypes than google for the various awards that LOT has won in acrobatics or whatever.

    Posted on July 14, 2007 at 11:18 pm #
  4. From Ryan:

    At least you weren’t stuck on a Soviet Yak-42 that seriously looked like it was going to fall apart mid-flight.
    My favorite part about this flight was the stray dogs running around the “secure” part of the Simferopol airport and the Polish guy behind me telling stories about his previous AeroSvit flight, where a woman brought a live chicken on board.

    Posted on July 15, 2007 at 7:26 am #
  5. From Jerry404:

    Well LOT actually has one of the best safety records, and one of the newest fleets in terms of average years of service of a plane. Most of AA flights JFK-London are actually worse, are serviced by old planes and there is no amusing cheering :).

    Posted on December 6, 2007 at 2:44 pm #
  6. From amanda:

    Although I agree LOT really is not even close to the standards of airlines such as BA, FA, and Lufthansa, You need to consider that Poland is still a fairly poor country compared to Germany,UK, etc. Because of Communism, Poland is behind by generations. Overall, I dont think its necessary to blame LOT, and not the Us Immigration policies, on your troubles.

    Posted on December 5, 2008 at 6:33 pm #
  7. From WO:

    Pity you never flew aeroflot to the old hong-kong airport. was something like an 8-track not above the skyscrapers but almost AMID.

    Posted on December 19, 2008 at 6:39 pm #
  8. From Matt:

    As a Polish-American, I’d like to say never ever ever ever fly LOT. Your recounts of your flight are almost word for word the same as experiences I’ve had (except I can understand the stewardesses snarky remarks in Polish). I’ve flown to Poland many times and the only way to go is through British Airways.

    Posted on January 12, 2009 at 1:43 pm #
  9. From mike:

    I only flew LOT twice but i must say they were light years ahead of any airline in the USA (delay central).Flights left on time and free beer (they gave me 2 at a time).would fly with them again in a heartbeat

    Posted on February 18, 2009 at 11:19 am #

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. At Home In The Wasteland » Ukraine/Poland ‘07 Roundup - July 4, 2009

    […] if you missed anything, here you go: 1. LOT – The airline of the proletariat 2. Ukraine Photos: Touring the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone 3. Dispatches from Chernobyl, Part I: Dude, […]

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