Joel Chusid’s Airline Corner (December 2012)
Guest Editor Joel Chusid
Healthy & Unhealthy Food Aloft
Free economy class airline food has all but disappeared on U.S. domestic flights, although it’s possible to buy snacks and meals on board these days. In some parts of the globe, free meals still are the rule. At least one Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Charles Platkin, at the City University of New York, says airline food is getting healthier. Having tested and ranked it since 2000, he praises Virgin America for having low calorie (like roasted pear and arugula salad), fiber-rich (oatmeal) and high protein choices (think hummus and whole wheat pita bread). He gives the carrier 4 ¼ stars for their execution. Just what you’d expect from a California-based airline, right? At the other end of the spectrum, Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air comes in with just 1 ½ stars, with mainly high-caloric candies, cookies and chips, something you’d find in a movie theatre or, I suppose, a tourist destination like Las Vegas. But Japan Airlines has taken economy class meals to a whole new level, although which level is debatable. Starting in December, they’ll offer “Air Yoshinoya” on their new Boeing 787 Dreamliner flights between San Diego and Tokyo. A Japanese fast food chain with its origins dating back to 1899, Yoshinoya is well known on the U.S. west coast. The beef vegetable bowl will be served to economy class – and premium economy – as the second meal service so customers can have a “taste of Japan” before they land. But it’s another offering that actually made Jay Leno’s monologue one night. JAL announced they’ll offer Kentucky Fried Chicken to economy and premium economy passengers starting in December on flights to destinations in the U.S. and Europe from Tokyo. I guess that’s a “taste of globalization” before landing.
No Free Lunch, but Free Phone Calls
The free lunches may be gone from airliners, but free phone calls have come to Denver’s airport. Granted, most people have cell phones, but this is for free calls worldwide. Denver International Airport has partnered with ClearChannel and RMES Communications to offer free global calls from 200 landlines located at the airport. When was the last time you saw a landline at an airport? Do you know how much they charge for a local call? At Denver you’re limited to ten minutes and can pay to extend the call, and there is some advertising you’re exposed to on a 17 inch screen in front of you, but it’s free, and a boon if your cellphone battery dies or you’re a visitor from abroad without a local phone.
Social Seating is Coming
You’ve heard of social media, so here’s the next step. A couple of airlines have begun tinkering with this, but Israeli startup SeatID is going a step further. How would you like to know who’s on the flight you’re going to take? You could avoid sitting next to some smelly, undesirable type or, on a positive note, next to someone with the same interests. Using a patented approach and taking clues from your social media sites, without a passenger list, they claim to be able to do this, assuming you opt-in. It doesn’t matter where the ticket was purchased from. The SeatID website claims to be available on selected airlines and sites. So far, only AeroSvit Ukrainian Airlines has opted in. Read more at www.seatid.com. Considering the blossoming of new apps and social media, this isn’t that way out, but it sounds weird and creepy to me.
While the social seating phenomenon won’t help you choose your airline crew at this time, at least your pilot will have been screened for offensive body odor on one demanding airline. The media has widely reported that a certain large Chinese airline requires its recruiters to sniff a pilot candidate’s armpits as part of the interview. Those who fail to meet the standard are disqualified. With China going through a pilot shortage, this is an amazingly tough requirement in addition to the usual other strict certifications in terms of safety and flying proficiency. But at least you can rest assured that your flight crew will have a nice aroma.
Sweaters and Blankets
Airliners can be chilly for some passengers, although I know from experience that Chinese airlines tend to keep the cabin a little warmer than usual, which is how I have found buildings in China in wintertime. For some reason, Chinese feel a chill more readily than Westerners. Blankets have all but disappeared from most airlines. So you bring a sweater, or two, on your flight. Better be careful on Ryanair! Consumer watchdog site “Budget Airline Watch” (www.budgetairlinewatch.com), which keeps an eye on British low fare airlines, reports how passengers, in an effort to avoid the carrier’s strict rules and hefty excess baggage rates, have been asked to refrain from bringing on “excess jumpers and jackets” and actually been banned from boarding. Reports of being charged for excess weight of 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces) have made the rounds. One woman was ejected off a plane in Valencia, Spain for carrying a scroll and a book outside of her carry-on bag, and the video filmed by stunned passengers went viral on youtube.com. Ryanair continues to look for ways to shed weight and add what airlines endearingly call “ancillary revenue”. Hence its colorful CEO Michael O’Leary commented that “seat belts don’t matter” as he has a vision to a get a standing-room only section on his airplanes. O’Leary says that there is not that much turbulence over Europe and that he would install handles for people to hang on to. Thanks to aviation regulators and lawmakers, this hasn’t got a big chance to become reality. Another airline CEO, Richard Branson, is more compassionate. Not only does Virgin Atlantic Airways still provide blankets, but they admonish passengers with “weep warnings” to get their hankies ready before showing emotional movies like “Billy Elliott”. In a survey, 41% of men admitted they hid under blankets when watching sad movies on airplanes. Really?