Saturday, July 23, 2011

Just a little bit more rant on airlines...

While checking in for the returning flight, the KAL employee at the desk had a bit of an issue with the Korean's passport for some reason. She took the passport, went to another desk to talk to a superior, called a number, and then returned and checked in the Korean. The entire sequence took perhaps 10 minutes.

Then the KAL employee apologized profusely for the 10-minute delay and "upgraded" the Korean to an exit row, which makes a world of difference in a 14-hour flight. She also explained that there was no seat available in the Business Class, and the Korean would have gotten it if there had been one.

Why can't American airlines do this? This is not about money. It costs Korean airlines and American airlines the same to give an upgrade to someone. This is not about unions either -- airlines in Korea are also heavily unionized. This is about the mentality of being able to recognize that 10-minute delay is a meaningful delay (although the Korean did not consider it to be meaningful,) and doing everything one can to do something about it. This is about mindset and attitude, the lack of which is pissing off American flyers.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. didn't the chinese call korea the "eastern nation of decorum"? =)

  2. just curious - what was the cause of the 10 minute delay in checking you in? Did they explain it to you?
    My wife and I waited 30 minutes for a carry-on luggage check on our return trip, which the employee said was the usual average wait-time. We did not receive any upgrade because it took them 30 minutes to clear carry-on bags...this was on Asiana Airlines.

  3. American airlines do upgrade people, I've seen it happen plenty. It often depends on how often you use that airline. when I was a kid, my dad used to fly around 8 times per week for business. When we flew international for vacation we got upgraded around 1 time in 5 (which is considerable considering that sometimes there isn't 3 business class seats available).

    The downright most atrocious thing I've seen an airline company do is an airline cancelling a flight (no problem there) and transferring us to another flight (no problem there). The issue was that prior to transfer our tickets were business class and after the transfer our tickets were... last row of the entire plane. With the bathrooms. From business to economy last row. We complained and they switched us to another flight in business, but that wasn't a high point for Delta.

  4. TW,

    It was some issue with the passport. The employee did explain.


    True story -- while flying back from Cape Town to New York via Amsterdam, Northwest cancelled the flight from Amsterdam to New York because, apparently, their company was merged into Delta. And the people at the Delta counter had no idea what to do. A friendly KLM employee nearby helped us out and put us in business class seats of a KLM flight from Ams to NY.

  5. Trying to book a flight for next year. I can take delta for like 900, or KAL for 1300.

    What exactly is the difference between normal, business or first class? I always just fly southwest so...

  6. Sorry to double post, but to clarify am trying to figure out if the extra expense is worth it, and if those rates are actually reasonable at all

  7. Very interesting - I've always associated "authentic" Korean service with the brusque and blunt nature of the waitresses that usually work at those "authentic, hole-in-the-wall" restaurants; at the same time, hotels, airlines, and other high-end service industries in Korea tend to have impeccable service. I think there might be a dichotomy in this aspect.

    I agree wholeheartedly, though, with your statement about American airlines. I've had a steward yell at me before.

  8. Then again none of this compares to south american airlines. My friend said when he went to visit his family he got yelled at in portuguese to not put his bag in the overhead bin.

    They were flying some old soviet plane (this was like 1995), and there was a bunch of hydraulic fluid in the overhead bin.

    At least american airlines don't have that problem >.>

  9. The more I hear about flying in America the less I want to go there.

    First, you have to be patted down and scanned so you might as well be nude, and if you complain they might take you in for interrogation as if you were a threat. Not the airlines' fault, but unpleasant and probably not conducive to creating a good mental environment for flight attendants either.

    Second, the planes are aging, seating is cramped, service that you take for granted elsewhere does not exist, and, as apparent from this piece, the staff have an attitude.

    Wondering why this was, I did a google search and came up with the following:

    Quote: "It's an airline with poor management. We keep taking benefit and pay cuts while management gives themselves multi-million dollar bonuses. We don't even make a profit. The work conditions are unsafe. Maintenance constantly is called to fix a problem on an aircraft and they just duct tape it and sign off in the log book. Pieces are broken all over the aircraft and in the lavs and galleys. I'm constantly hurting myself at work, whether it's a sprained wrist or cut finger. Our layover time has been reduced drastically while our working days have gotten longer. We're tired and grumpy all the time.
    Advice to Senior Management

    Blame management, not unions.

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  11. The Korean:
    I avoid American airlines. I think they are decent for local flights in terms of leg room and movie choices, but international I avoid it as they are just too sub-par in terms of service, food and hot flight attendants. I've seen a flight attendant so fat on Delta that her butt had to squeeze in between the seats which is actually problematic for circulation within the plane.

    Native Foreigner:
    Normally, everything is better. From the ones I remember (I only flew business because of free upgrades): There is a lot more leg room (really more than enough), the seat is wider and more comfortable, it can recline completely, the food is better, you can get seconds if needed, if you sleep through the meal they can bring it after your sleep, champagne before take-off, more drink service, better booze selection (actually decent wines), better quality TV screen, better movie selection sometimes (in older plane, sometimes only business have movie choices), faster to check in, board and exit the plane, they usually let you have more checked in luggage and on board luggage. Probably a few more I forgot. Is it worth it to pay extra for it? To me... it simply isn't. Especially as it is usually quite a steep difference (double or more).

  12. I flew Korean as I heard they were good with kids. I had a bad experience though, first they asked us to move from the seats we booked to non-aisle seats because the woman at the window did like being 'trapped' by us. Then they blocked the aisle with their sales-cart for 1.5hrs and wouldn't let me take my son to the forward washroom to change him but also wouldn't let give me access to the back. Then they brought us all of our meals at once, but when we asked if they could bring one later so we could feed our child, they did: They brought my husbands dinner back 15min before breakfast. It was not at all what I had heard they were like.

    North American airlines do upgrade people too. On my honeymoon our flight upgraded all of the honeymooners to first-class, except for me and my hubby. When we got off, they wished all the best in life to all of the honeymooners in "first class". I cried.

    Perhaps it's not the airlines, perhaps it's just my bad luck... I'm glad you had such good experiences.

  13. On our flight to Korea nearly two years ago, my son was 10 months old and we purchased a ticket for him. After calling and calling and calling and checking and checking, we deduced that he was allowed the same amount of carry-on items as any other passenger with a ticket.

    We were harassed as we exited the our flight with American Airlines about our "ridiculous" and "excessive" number of carry-ons (3 bags, 3 personal items - all of the personal items were smaller than the purses carried by fashionable ladies at the time).

    On our connecting flight we flew KAL direct from Chicago to Incheon. There was apparently a problem with us using a car seat for my son (we thought it was mandatory), and the flight attendant that informed us thus went to speak with her supervisor about it. She returned and apologized profusely, and gave my son a toy. The flight attendants also babied him through the flight, carrying him up and down the aisles. It was an amazingly enjoyable 13-hour trip.

    Thinking about having to fly with a U.S. carrier ever again is enough to make me want to stay in Korea for pretty much forever. Maybe I'll fly direct with KAL to Chicago next time and then rent a car to wherever I need to go after that.

  14. It was nice of KAL to give you exit row seats, but I'm not sure why you or anyone else would feel entitled to an upgrade because your check-in process took an additional 10 minutes through no fault of the airline. You got exit row seats which is nice for a 14 hour flight to Seoul, but somehow you chastise U.S. airlines for not having a policy that would upgrade you to business class? You paid for a coach seat and got a nice coach seat.

    The criticism is really unfair and unwarranted.

  15. Customer service is considered beneath Americans . . . paradoxically, many working in customer service hold this view.

    American airlines are rotten, and have a lot to learn from their Asian counterparts.

  16. The last time I flew in America I was appalled at the way the attendants were literally yelling at people about the right way to stow their baggage, about the need to let the people behind them pass, etc. One of the attendants told me the problem is that if you politely ask Americans to follow the rules for everyone's convenience and safety, they will ignore you.

    What I see in Korea and Japan is that customer service is excellent, but so are the customers. When people have a problem, they bring it up politely. When they are explained the rules for everyone's convenience and safety, they follow them.

    So while the mentality of customer service is very different in the two regions, so is the mentality of a lot of customers.

  17. Nathan's correct. The service one receives is in MOST cases a reflection of ones own attitude. Act like an ass get treated like one. And unfortunately of late acting like an ass has become the norm in the U.S.

  18. Case in point.

  19. Delta has upgraded me to business class after my flight got delayed.

  20. 1. I remember flying through Narita airport in Japan a few years ago and going through security - the airport personnel was so very pleasant. And when they wanted you to take off your shoes, you stepped only on clean carpeted areas (not like the nasty linoleum floors in the US). And the personnel asked each of us to "please remove shoes" so very kindly.

    2. I flew Thai airways for one of their Domestic flights from bangkok to Changmai or something like that. It was only like an hour or so flight, but they still provided service as if it was an international flight (a meal and videos, etc....).

    3. On American from NYC to Raleigh, NC, I was NOT checking in any baggage and only had 1 duffel carry on. I got to the airport 40 minutes before take off and the self-check in terminal wouldn't allow me to get my boarding pass. When I asked some staff at the desk, they reprimanded me for getting there so late (?? wtf? I have no checked bags and the plane didn't even start boarding), and told me that I better run to the gate and hope they don't take off. When I got to the gate, they didn't even have the frickin' monitor updated to show that the flight will be boarding. The plane didn't board on time nonetheless.

    4. We still can't complain too much about US airports. I flew into Ouagadougu in Burkina Faso and there's no computer, no AC, no bathrooms and you have to pass thru 3 different ppl to board, and everything is done manually, even security checks (they open up your bag and inspect). And each person to board an Air France flight had to do this.

  21. It is a sad day when America gets to be even in the same breath as Burkina Faso.

  22. @ Linda: You arrive just 40 minutes prior to takeoff?? You're really taking a chance. Yes - you'll make your flight most of the time. But if one little thing goes wrong - or a glut of travelers is going through security - you could easily miss your flight.

  23. it's not just the airlines. any type of business that provide service directly to consumers are generally superior. best way to notice the difference is to visit Korean stores of American chains (Mcdonalds, Starbucks, TGI Fridays of all places). other places to notice the stark differences would be at government services (the DMV, airport security, municipal services).


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